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World Press Freedom Day, ZLHR urges govt to advance media reform
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
for Human Rights joins all supporters of media freedom in the global
observance of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2013 under the theme
“Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”.
Freedom Day gives us a chance to pay tribute to media professionals
within Zimbabwe and beyond who risk their lives and that of their
families in their line of duty. It is an opportune time to celebrate
the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of
press freedom in our country and throughout the world and defend
the media from attacks on their independence.
This year’s theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of
Expression in All Media” puts the spotlight in particular,
on the issues of safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes
against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open internet
as the precondition for online safety.
that a free and independent media is essential to the development
and sustainability of a vibrant democracy, and integral to realising
the public's right to diverse information and views.
Since ZLHR is deeply committed to freedom of expression and access
to information, ZLHR salutes the brave journalists and media houses
that have in the past year committed to exposing human rights violations,
executive excesses, corruption and other ills in both the public
and private sphere.
It is saddening
to note that Zimbabwe is still saddled with an arsenal of repressive
media and criminal laws that are either too broad or vague despite
committing itself to international, continental and sub regional
standards and principles that urge state to promote media freedom.
years after the formation of the Inclusive
Government (IG) and the signing of the Global
Political Agreement (GPA) those in authority have failed to
implement the key media reforms agreed during the embryonic stage
of what we considered to be a transition to democracy.
Five years of
inclusive governing have failed to roll back the regime of censorship
and secrecy that were the hallmarks of the previous repressive era.
The GPA clearly
stipulates that laws impacting negatively on fundamental rights
and freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement were
to be amended to ensure a conducive legislative environment. These
undertakings have been ignored, if not violated, with impunity.
such as the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public
Order and Security Act and the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act among others continue to stifle
media freedoms and have resulted in the subsequent arrest of journalists,
citizen journalists and several citizens. This has been a clear
indication that legislative and institutional reform is not a priority
for the IG and such repressive laws will continue to be used selectively
by unreformed state institutions and actors to prevent constitutional
freedoms from being exercised due to lack of political will and
failure to censure heavy-handed action whenever it occurs.
but state-controlled media (both print and electronic) continues
to do a disservice to the nation by failing to provide programming
and content that enlighten people in a comprehensive and educative
manner. Inequality of access to such media by representatives offering
dissenting views remains a challenge.
ZLHR has been monitoring, with increasing concern, recent reportage
in the state-controlled and other partisan media which, when read
in its entirety, constitutes a professional and personal attack
on a well-respected judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe (Justice
Charles Hungwe), as well as a broader and more disturbing assault
on the independence and integrity of the judiciary and legal profession
in Zimbabwe. What is of the greatest concern is that such hate speech
and false reporting has not only been tolerated, but has in fact
been encouraged to continue with complete impunity.
Reform of the
public broadcaster and state-controlled media remains outstanding
despite its urgency and the GPA requirement that this be prioritized
by the IG.
laws continue to be abused and selectively applied against targeted
civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs).
It is disturbing to note an increase in the criminalization of free
speech through the abuse of insult laws, wherein ZLHR has recorded
60 cases in which section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and
Reform) Act has been arbitrarily applied on individuals and charged
with allegedly “insulting or undermining the authority of
the President” since 2010.
Services Act has also been used to stifle lawfully operational
alternative media and voices. In relation to the latter, the Zimbabwe
Republic Police (ZRP) has, since the beginning of the year, arbitrarily
sought to “ban”
alternative sources of media – namely short-wave radios. This
has been followed by the confiscation of radios from CSOs and communities
that have been searched or found in possession of such gadgets.
This unlawful confiscation of radios is directly linked to the closing
up of access to diverse information and leads to a situation where
people in communities are not able to get any alternative sources
of information as they cannot afford to buy newspapers, and in most
cases there is no frequency for state controlled broadcasting. This
is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and
access to information and must be urgently rectified.
to which State institutions and actors are now going to deny fundamental
rights and freedoms and act outside the law is alarming but is typical
of paranoid State authorities who are contemptuous of any diversity
of opinion and information.
ZLHR calls upon
the IG and the Zimbabwe Media Commission to make use of the World
Press Freedom Day commemorations as a golden opportunity to advance
the media reform package which was kick-started by the IG through
promises that remain unfulfilled of implementing comprehensive media
reforms before the next elections.
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