'Mugabe's media threats chilling'

HARARE - Media pressure groups have strongly condemned President Robert Mugabe’s recent threats directed at the independent media saying they can potentially trigger extra-legal violation of media freedom by political activists.

The concerns come after Mugabe on September 15 threatened the independent media while addressing guests at a luncheon hosted for him by the ministry of Local Government just after he read a wrong speech at the opening of parliament.

Apparently, Mugabe was incensed by reports that he was scared stiff of former vice president Joice Mujuru’s political move.

Mugabe said: “You are thinking how you can excite people who read so that they can buy your paper. No. The journalism we are experiencing is not the journalism we expect. If we begin to take control now, rigid control, people should not cry foul.”

Misa-Zimbabwe chairman Kumbirai Mafunda said the threat underlines the dangers that continue to confront the media despite the adoption of a new constitution in May 2013 guaranteeing media freedom.

“Clearly, it demonstrates that although there have been fewer cases of harassment of journalists recently as compared to previous years, government can easily resort to media repression at the slightest of opportunity using an array of undemocratic legislative instruments that remain at its disposal,” Mafunda said.

He called on the country’s leadership to exercise restraint and desist from issuing such threats which are not only in conflict with the letter and spirit of the constitution but inherently border on incitement to media freedom violations.

“There are available civil remedies Mugabe, government officials and indeed ordinary members of the public can pursue when aggrieved by the media,” he added.

“Seeking redress through the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe is one such avenue.”

Meanwhile, editors who recently met in Harare for the Professional Journalism Peer Review noted that while Zimbabwe’s new Constitution now explicitly guarantees media freedom as well as the right to access to information, the media was yet to enjoy those rights.

“The findings and recommendations of the Information Media Panel of Inquiry (Impi) report are also critical in that regard,” said Misa-Zimbabwe programmes officer Nyasha Nyakunu.

“That as it may be, a relatively democratic Constitution alone does not suffice in promoting the attainment or enjoyment of rights so enshrined in the very same Constitution.”

Editors expressed concern at the continued existence of repressive laws such as Acess to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Broadcasting Services Act, Interception of Communications Act, Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act and the Official Secrets Act, among others.

Editors resolved to take the lead in defending the right to media freedom to ensure unhindered enjoyment of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

Nyakunu said these rights together with all the other rights provided for under the Bill of Rights (Chapter 4 Rights), are key to accountable and transparent governance which is critical to economic development and prosperity.

“The right to media freedom, however, demands a responsible, non-partisan, but professional and accountable media that is strategically positioned to defend its watchdog role and advance citizens’ unhindered enjoyment of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights,” he said.

“Suffice to say, the media should be on the forefront in demanding enforcement of our constitutionally-guaranteed rights anchored by the repeal or amendment of laws that hinder the enjoyment of media freedom and citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information. The media should write and report on these issues.”

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