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Arrests of Studio 7 listeners an affront to democracy
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

November 30, 2010

'Except with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference with his correspondence'

Article 20 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe

The law, under section 20 of the Constitution, clearly states that citizens have the right to receive information. The section is further compounded by Article 19 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (1981) which states that 'every individual shall have the right to receive information' and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) Article 19 which says, 'Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.'

The Masvingo Mirro of 26 November-2 December 2010 reported cases of arrests of Studio 7 listeners in Bikita in the Masvingo province. The report alleges that the police are raiding homes and arresting anyone found listening to the radio station. The right to access information is fundamental and its deprivation is an affront to democracy and a violation of the constitution and the ACHPR and ICCPR to which Zimbabwe is a state party. By arresting listeners of the radio station, the police are denying the people of Bikita their fundamental right to access information as and when they need it limiting informed citizen participation in national processes particularly as the country moves towards possible elections in 2011. According to Saunders (1999), without reliable and balanced information about what happens in government and society, it is difficult if not impossible for people to participate in the running of their country.

It is apparent that Zimbabweans are yearning for unbiased and credible information about their country and the world at large, something which the current government is failing to fully provide. One arm of the government and former ruling party ZANU PF, continues its strangle hold on the public media which, instead of servicing ordinary citizens, continues to churn out ZANU PF propaganda and denigrate any perceived opponents of he political party. Despite commitments by the inclusive government to sanitise the public media of its partisan mantra, the public media remains highly politicised and devoid of balanced and credible information.

Moreover, the licensing of private media houses has done little to ease the shortage of information amongst the populace owing to the fact that the private media is limited to print media as opposed to broadcast. Radio which is part of the broadcast media is largely considered by scholars as the 'medium for Africa' because of its wide reach. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation retains monopoly over the broadcast media giving unrestrained powers to ZANU PF to gate keep the information disseminated to the public. In addition, with the increase in the harassment and arrests of journalists from the private media, the government is further censoring the information provided to citizens and dictating the pace of the media industry.

The absence of accessible, balanced and credible information sources has led to Zimbabweans seeking alternatives and listening to short-wave radio stations. Instead of harassing and arresting citizens over their desire to access information, the government should make efforts to provide the much-needed credible information to allow citizens an opportunity to make key decisions. Without the reformation of the public media and licensing of private players in the broadcast media industry, Zimbabweans will continue seeking alternative information sources even at their own peril.

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