Letter to police: Safety, security of journalists during lockdown

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe Chapter has written a letter to the Commissioner-General of Police Godwin Matanga appealing for the law enforcement services to ensure the safety and security of journalists who, in terms of the regulations, are providers of essential services.

This is in light of the recent statement by the Vice-President and Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Constantino Chiwenga, pertaining to the increase in Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe, thus necessitating a national lockdown for purposes of preventing and containing the virus.

Below is the letter dated January 4:

Ref: Safety and security of journalists during the Covid-19 national lockdown

Misa Zimbabwe takes note of the recent statement by the Vice-President and Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Constantino Chiwenga, pertaining to the increase in Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe and thus necessitating a national lockdown for purposes of preventing and containing the virus.

In that regard, Misa Zimbabwe is humbly reaching out and appealing to your esteemed offices to ensure the safety and security of journalists, who in terms of the regulations are providers of essential services.

Our appeal and concern on the safety and security of journalists is informed by the media freedom violations that ensued when the country implemented the first national lockdown measures in March 2020.

Several journalists were either assaulted or harassed by law enforcement officers for reportedly violating the Covid-19 regulations and undertaking their lawful professional duties using the then expired Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC)-issued accreditation cards.

It is against that background that Misa Zimbabwe obtained a High Court order barring the police and other law enforcement agencies charged with the enforcement of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations not to arrest, detain or interfere “in any unnecessary way” with the work of journalists.

In light of the current national lockdown, Misa Zimbabwe is therefore appealing to your esteemed office, to ensure that journalists as providers of essential services conduct their professional responsibilities of disseminating and facilitating access to information on the pandemic and government’s measures and efforts to contain the virus, without any hindrance.

It is our very well-considered view that the obtaining situation requires urgent professional co-operation and constant communication between the police, ZMC and the media players.

This is critical given that the 2021 accreditation fees are still to be gazetted while the accreditation cards for this year have not yet been issued.

The ZMC should therefore consider decentralising its accreditation processes for the convenience of journalists in line with the new lockdown measures.

We are therefore appealing to your esteemed offices for this information to be relayed to all police stations in the country for purposes of ensuring that journalists will not be arrested or harassed for using the accreditation cards issued last year.

Misa Zimbabwe, therefore, urges critical stakeholders to co-operate in protecting and promoting media freedom to ensure timely, accurate and verifiable information on Covid-19 and the measures that can be taken to prevent contamination and spreading of the virus.

In turn, the media should be professional in conducting its lawful duties and ethical responsibilities in line with the profession’s codes and ethics while also being mindful of the profession’s safety and security measures.

Golden Maunganidze
MISA Zimbabwe national chairperson.