PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has been urged by media practitioners and activists to prioritise the implementation of long overdue media reforms, the safety and security of journalists while conducting their duties, as well as the implementation of recommendations of the government-sanctioned Independent Media Panel of Inquiry (Impi) report.
By Wongai Zhangazha
Mnangagwa in his inauguration speech on last week said he would ensure that the pillars of democracy are strengthened and respected.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary-general Foster Dongozi said his organisation hoped that Mnangagwa would speedily implement media reforms.
“Firstly, we would like to congratulate President Emmerson Mnangagwa for being appointed president of Zimbabwe. The beauty about it is that Mnangagwa several months ago was the guest of honour at Njama (National Journalistic and Media Awards). As the guest of honour he spoke strongly about the safety and security of journalists. We are looking forward to that materialising,” said Dongozi.
“Secondly, at the same event Mnangagwa spoke about the need to put mechanisms in place to improve journalists’ working conditions, as well as welfare. We hope he will remind his government on fulfilling that side of the bargain. He also spoke about the need to align some media laws with the current constitution. He was also very much aware of the Impi report which raised fundamental issues. We hope that he will see through the implementation of some of the recommendations of the report.”
Information ministry commissioned Impi to check on the state of the media and identify some of the industry’s urgent needs.
The report, submitted in 2015, indicated that corruption had permeated the industry and also noted that the standards of journalism had gone down.
The Impi report urged government to review and repeal the country’s restrictive media laws. On broadcasting, the report noted that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had turned into a State broadcaster instead of a public or national broadcaster and that there was “too much bias” in coverage of political parties.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe director Loughty Dube said he expected the new government to revisit Impi recommendations.
“There is need to re-align and amend repressive laws with the new constitution. ZBC needs to be transformed into a truly public broadcaster serving the interests of all Zimbabweans. The government should also licence community radio stations to allow communities to be able to debate and discuss development issues in their communities,” Dube said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) national chairperson Golden Maunganidze in a statement released this week said Mnangagwa should prioritise the implementation of long-overdue media reforms critical to a new democratic dispensation.
“In breaking with the past, President Mnangagwa should also ensure the safety and security of journalists conducting their lawful professional duties. Above all, he should also be accessible to the media as it fulfils its watchdog role to foster transparency and accountability,” said Maunganidze.
“In the same spirit, Misa Zimbabwe calls for the speedy alignment of the country’s media laws and policies with the Constitution as provided for in terms of Sections 61 and 62 and indeed other fundamental sections enshrined under the Declaration of Rights. Sections 61 and 62 guarantee the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.”
Maunganidze said the pillars of democracy cannot be strengthened through the continued existence of repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), among others.
“These laws impinge on citizens’ right to freedom of expression and free flow of information which is critical in shaping a new democratic dispensation. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) should thus be transformed into a truly independent public broadcaster that is open to diverse views and opinions from Zimbabwe’s multi-sectoral populace. Misa Zimbabwe therefore urges the new President to crack the whip for speedy implementation of media reforms that have been outstanding since the coming into being of Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution,” he said.
A National People’s Convention Declaration adopted by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches last week called for the implementation of constitutional provisions on free expression.
The declaration demanded the right to information and media freedom specifically amending Aippa and the Criminal Law Codification Act, Respect for the independence of the media though non-editorial interference and protection of journalists from harassment.
Legal guarantees to protect internet freedom and transformation of public broadcasting institutions including ZBC and the Mass Media Trust, transparent and genuine opening up of broadcast media through non-partisan issuance of licences to the three broadcasting tiers (community, commercial, public) were also some of the issues demanded.