Constitution not enough for media freedom

Zimbabwean media organisations and journalists have expressed fears that failure to change media laws in line with the new constitution has the potential to compromise their work in 2014.

Representatives of several organisations, including Media Institute for Southern Africa, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Women Empowerment Foundation Scribes Africa (WEFSA) and journalists from various media houses, said the political will to align media laws remained the greatest challenge.

Njabulo Ncube, the MISA Zimbabwe chair, said he feared government might take its time to align the laws, thus compromising the media.

Ncube said that, while it was a welcome development that the constitution guaranteed media freedom, politicians could still use the existing laws to muzzle the industry.

“Experience has shown that such laws can be used to suppress the media,” he said. “It is our hope that government will repeal or amend laws, such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Broadcasting Services Act, the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and several defamation laws, and make sure that they are consistent with the constitution.

“These laws may be used to take away the freedom of the media and our situation will revert back to the era when there was serious hostility between the Zanu (PF)-led government and the independent media,” he said.

Foster Dongozi, the secretary-0general The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said he preferred self-regulation for the media over legal controls. “Journalists should be given the platform to voice their concerns on what it is that they expect from government to enable them to carry out their mandate effectively,” he said. “The absence of a code of conduct for journalists compromises their ability to operate.”

WEFSA founder Edinah Masanga said the organisation’s greatest fear was the country’s economic performance in 2014.

“A poorly performing economy has ripple effects on the overall performance of the media. Continued liquidity crunch will see failure by advertisers to contribute to revenue generation for media houses,” she said. “Media houses may close because of financial challenges and if they are not adequately remunerated, journalists may engage in corrupt dealings to sustain their living, and this affects the content.”

Masanga said her organisation was expecting to see a more gender-sensitive media in 2014.

“We are looking forward to a 2014 where media houses will increase the percentage representation of women in key positions,” she said. “The media environment should be conducive to opportunities for women in leadership positions and as news sources.”

Journalists said government should promote the spirit of transparency through ensuring that public documents were made available, that they

were able to work without being criminalised, and that government encouraged more radio and television stations and newspapers.

On his aspirations for 2014, veteran journalist and mentor Chris Chinaka called on training institutions to address the existing weaknesses in the industry as a way of raising reporting standards.

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