The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) joins all Zimbabweans and the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day.
In any democracy, the role of the press is critical as it fulfills its normative roles of educating, entertaining and informing citizens such that they can make informed decisions about their lives.
This year's global theme is 'Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law', has come at an apt time as Zimbabwe heads for the harmonized elections. This theme valorizes the media's role as the 'fourth estate', playing the watchdog role of keeping government accountable through shining the spotlight on abuses of power.
For the media to carry out the watchdog function, there needs to be robust policies and laws that enhance media freedom.
In Zimbabwe, freedom of the media is guaranteed by Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution, which protect the right to free expression, media freedom and access to information. However, with laws such as Official Secrets Act, Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) the public officials are shielded from public gaze as journalists and media houses tread carefully, as the laws are applied selectively.
According to the World Press Freedom Index of 2017-2018, Zimbabwe is ranked 126 out of 180 countries, with the beating, wrongful arrests and threats against journalists being cited. The MISA 2017 State of the Media report shows that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is the major perpetrator of violence against journalists, which is disturbing in a democracy.
Zimbabwe also places poorly on the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index (WJP) rankings, as it is ranked at 108 out of 113 countries in all categories of constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil and criminal justice. Zimbabwe's overall rule of law score places it at 17 out of 18 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region and 11 out of 12 among low income countries, according to WFJ Index.
The Forum, therefore, calls on the government of Zimbabwe to:
- Repeal restrictive provisions of AIPPA and POSA
- Align all media laws with the Constitution
- Allow for self-regulation of the Media
- Repeal criminal defamation laws, which curtail freedom of the media
- Licence community radio stations to enhance access to information
- Protect journalists in the line of their work, especially with the impending 2018 harmonised elections
- We hold the firm belief that media freedom is a Constitutional right and should be respected.
Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum