MISA-Zimbabwe has commended the government for categorising the media as an essential service, among other critical sectors, whose operations should not be restricted during the national lockdown given the important role it plays in advancing the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
However, the media rights lobby said the first two weeks of the 21-day national lockdown had put to test the State's preparedness to accept media freedom as a number of journalists were being arrested and harassed by the police.
"Regrettably, events during the first week of the lockdown have severely tested the country's adherence and respect for the right to media freedom as provided for under Section 61 of the Constitution which also promotes freedom of expression," said MISA Zimbabwe in a statement.
"Even more critical is Section 62, which provides for the right to access to information, which is very critical in keeping citizens informed on developments and measures being implemented by government and other key stakeholders in combating COVID-19.
"Unfortunately, MISA Zimbabwe has since recorded cases involving the arrest and harassment of journalists and media workers (newspaper vendors) by the police during the first week of the lockdown."
It said notable recent cases were those of journalists Nunurai Jena in Chinhoyi and Panashe Makufa in Harare.
"The journalists were accused of conducting their lawful professional duties without valid journalism accreditation cards issued by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC)."
However, the ZMC is still to issue valid 2020 accreditation cards.
"It is against that background that journalists were given the go-ahead to operate until the new and valid cards are duly issued. Ironically, by arresting and harassing journalists that are operating without the valid 2020 cards, the police are not only violating the right to media freedom, but the government and ZMC's directive that
the media as an essential service, should be allowed to conduct its operations without hindrance until the issuance of the valid 2020 cards.
"The media should be allowed to play its critical role in the free flow of information and ideas that will keep the nation informed in the fight against COVID-19 as well as the measures that individual citizens can take to prevent infections and spread of the virus. In fact, the police and the media should play a complementary role in that regard.
"The police should therefore not view journalists and media workers as enemies and should accordingly be guided by the Constitution in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities. On the other hand, the media should be professional in conducting its lawful duties and ethical responsibilities in line with the profession's codes and ethics and safety and security measures," MISA said.