Journos petition Tsvangirai

augustine_chihuriHARARE - Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has voiced disappointment at the failure of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) to stop the arbitrary arrests of journalists. (Pictured: Police chief Augustine Chihuri A police crackdown on the media is seen as an attempt to

Tsvangirai the ZMC that was appointed by the unity government as part of measures to free the media and help entrench democracy in the country was expected to take a lead role in protecting and defending the rights of journalists lawfully carrying out their work to do so without fear of harassment or arrest.

We are saddened by the continued crackdown on journalists and I can assure you that the issue will be on the agenda of the next Council of Ministers meeting, said Tsvangirai, as he accepted a petition from media groups calling on the government to act to end harassment of journalists.

I am also rather disappointed by the media commission because we put it into place to stop these kinds of things, they should be doing more to protect journalists and stop hate speech, said the PM, who received the petition at his Munhumutapa offices last Friday.

Tsvangirai said he is disturbed by some elements within the inclusive government are resisting the introduction of media reforms and said he will do everything in his powers to ensure the safety of journalists.

The journalists grouped under the banner of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) had approached Tsvangirai to ask him to act to stop the arrests and ensure a safe working environment for journalists as well as pressuring him to put more efforts in opening up the countrys broadcasting media sector.

MAZ is a media advocacy alliance consisting of Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF), Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), and Federation of African Media Women in Zimbabwe (FAMWZ).

A journalist working for the weekly Standard newspaper was last week arrested and thrown into jail over a story which allegedly defamed the police. The High Court last Friday has ordered the release of Nqobani Ndlovu, who was arrested for writing a story claiming that police authorities were hiring pro-President Robert Mugabe war veterans and recalling retired officers ahead of elections next year.

The High Court ordered his release after spending more than a week in prison. The unity government of Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe and Deput Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara has implemented some reforms to open up media space, including issuing licenses to privately owned newspapers to publish and compete with the governments vastly dominant newspaper empire.

It has however not moved an inch to open up the critical broadcasting sector where the state owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) remains a monopoly. Despite the movement in opening up media space since the formation of the government of national unity, hardliner elements in ZANU PF and the security forces have moved in recent weeks to clamp down on the media and whittle down the little democratic space that had opened during the nearly two years of unity government.

Three freelance journalists were arrested last month and the Editor of the United Kingdom-based The Zimbabwean newspaper Wilf Mbanga has been put on the police wanted list for a story they allege the paper published sometime in 2008. This is despite the fact the story in question was published by a different publication, an online Zimbabwean news website.

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