Clamour for a better deal in Zimbabwe

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Harare, May 2016 — DOZENS of journalists and media stakeholders gathered to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in Harare’s Highfields suburb, with calls from media experts for government to align media laws with the new constitution as well as improve the working conditions for journalists.

The theme of the day was “Media sustainability in the digital era”.

Media experts bemoaned the non-alignment of laws to the national charter as one of the reasons local journalists continuously failed to discharge their duties freely.

Nearly 100 journalists, representatives from government and civil society organizations as well as the general public started the day’s series of activities with a media march. Then followed a workshop dubbed the “Tweet-table”. Participants recommended that media and civil society organizations be highly engaged in ongoing processes that were shaping Zimbabwe’s cyber-laws.

The Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forum (ZIGF) is the forum where media and civil society organizations can make their contributions ahead of a national consultations initiative.

Loughty Dube, the executive director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), said while the constitutional court had outlawed criminal defamation, press freedom was still in a “bad state”.

“Press freedom in Zimbabwe is in a bad state. We still have archaic laws that are being used to arrest and persecute journalists. The constitutional court judgement that criminal defamation is unlawful in Zimbabwe was a good step but more still needs to be done,” said Dube, who called for the alignment of the media laws with the constitution of Zimbabwe.

“If the laws we have are to be aligned with the constitution, it will be very progressive. We would like to advice the government to align the laws with the constitution,” said Dube.

The media self-regulatory board chief noted that there was a need for the government and media organizations to engage in awareness campaigns over the digitization programme.

“There should be knowledge on digitization, where is it coming from and where it is going. The government and media institutions should strive to promote awareness on the digitization progress,” he said

Speaking on the sidelines of the celebrations, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Secretary General Foster Dongozi said the conditions of employment for journalists were deplorable.

“If we look at the position of journalists, we should not look at their payment or salaries but their conditions. The salary of journalists stinks; it is poor. It is not money that should be given to people,” he said.

Dongozi said people should not expect quality information from Zimbabwean journalists as they were writing under a very fearful environment.

“The conditions we are working in are very fearful, they are conditions of arrests and being intimidated. If one works in conditions of fear, one won’t work properly. They won’t produce quality information,” he added.

Commenting on the gains of the media in Zimbabwe, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the Media Institute of Zimbabwe (MISA) Director, said that as an organization, they were sceptical about the gains made so far in the country.

“The government has said that it wants to look into AIPPA and Broadcasting Services Act and also put a law which will regulate the TV sector to operate freely. We have reservations about why they have chosen two laws when we have many laws hindering the operations of the media in the country,” he said.

He also bemoaned the failure to broadcast by six of the eight commercial radio stations which were licensed last year.

Reported by Barnabas Thondhlana