Freedom of expression as a driver for other human rights

This year’s commemorations come at a time when Zimbabwe is making preparations for the holding of harmonised elections.

THE Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) joins all Zimbabweans and the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day.

The year 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day since it was proclaimed in 1993.

This year’s commemorations come at a time when Zimbabwe is making preparations for the holding of harmonised elections.

While the above points to a hectic year ahead for the media, focus should be directed towards issues of media freedom, the safety of journalists and the state of freedom of expression in the country.

Government is commended for developments within the media, that have taken place in the last two years, namely; the repeal of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and its replacement with new laws, the licensing of new community radio stations and the introduction of post-Cabinet briefings.

However, the year 2022 saw the country witnessing an increase in the number of violations against journalists.

Media development agencies recorded numerous cases where journalists were assaulted, threatened, harassed at political gatherings and rallies, while others were barred from covering national events.

Other cases of particular concern involved the unlawful arrest and assault of journalists conducting their lawful professional duties by the police.

More grave are threats of imprisonment allegedly made by government officials to Zimbabwean journalists if they continue to cover the Gold Mafia exposé.

The VMCZ, while commending government for repealing bad laws, notes with concern the continued retention of clawback clauses that manifest in provisions of new laws, making the repealing of repressive laws have a multiplication by zero effect.

The Public Order and Security Act was repealed, but replaced with an almost identical Maintenance of Peace and Order Act.

Aippa was repealed, but the new regulations seek to maintain some of its odious clauses.

VMCZ continues to call upon the relevant authorities to ensure favourable media regulation is adopted in the country.

While VMCZ remains committed to media self-regulation as a democratic form of ethical, professional, and publicly accountable media, the consensus on co-regulation agreed to by media stakeholders remain a viable option.

However, the nature of the media co-regulation agreed upon by stakeholders needs to be defined and refined on how it should be employed in the Zimbabwean scenario, to avoid arm-twisting of other players and to ensure effective media co-regulation is attained.

As we head towards elections, VMCZ urges political parties, civil society organisations and State institutions to respect the right of the media to work freely without undue hindrance.

VMCZ also wants to make it known to political parties and the public at large, that should they have any grievances against professional media in the country, they are welcome to utilise the VMCZ media complaints mechanisms.

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day today, VMCZ remains committed to carrying out its mandate as prescribed and supported by media stakeholders, media professionals, civil society organisations and members of the public.

Alec Muchadehama is the chairperson of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe

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