‘Government biggest threat to freedom of expression’

12 May 2016

By Maxwell Sibanda, Assistant Editor, The Daily News

HARARE ¬ Government must never be given space or opportunity to regulate and control the media as doing so will be counter-productive to media professionalism and the media should take charge and control its affairs, a senior editor warned during the annual Bornwell Chakaodza Memorial Lecture.

The lecture was organised by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) as part of World Press Freedom Day commemorations. Presenting the lecture, senior editor Dumisani Muleya said government is the biggest threat to the fundamental rights of citizens which include freedom of expression. Muleya said despite the existence of the current Constitution which guarantees media freedom, the government has remained reluctant to adhere to the new constitutional provisions that guarantee media freedoms and freedom of expression.

“The Constitution guarantees media freedom and freedom of expression, and this is part of the incremental gains which we have registered through bruising battles with the current government.

“The only problem though is that government is taking forever to finish realignment of laws, including media statutes, with the new Constitution,” Muleya said. Muleya added that scribes are still being threatened, harassed and arrested, not for a criminal cause but for merely doing their job and added that this harassment is now not limited to the private media as was the case in the past.

“We have of late heard of threats against journalists, for instance; for reporting on President Robert Mugabe’s health, foreign trips or age; pressure and intimidation over such mundane things, or indeed bullying for reporting on security issues”, Muleya said.

“Only recently, Mugabe’s government threatened to gag journalists and Zimbabwean citizens Chinese-style through stringent Internet and social media controls, claiming there is abuse of cyber¬platforms. “This reminds us that latent and sometimes brazen threats to the media remain.”

The economy is also another big threat to the survival of the media industry and has contributed immensely to ethical challenges and corruption that is fast creeping into the profession.

“The current regime remains the biggest threat to the media since it is the architect and or author of this economic crisis,” he said, adding that “this has fuelled corruption and is affecting journalism ethics and media professionalism in Zimbabwe.”

Muleya also took a swipe at government’s partisan awarding of broadcast licences which he says has seen pluralism without diversity on the media landscape. “Broadcasting still remains a preserve of the State and its associates. Broadcasting licences are not issued transparently — only allies and cronies of the system get the licences”.

Muleya, however, maintained that the position of the media remains clear: “Freedom of the press is part of our constitutional rights and government has no right to interfere in regulation of the press. There should not be any media laws which curtail media freedom.

“While we know media freedom, like other freedoms, is not absolute, we don’t need government to regulate the media. “We can do it ourselves. So we want media self¬regulation, we do it ourselves; we set up our own regulatory system, our own rules and we decide how these rules look like and how they are implemented.” Muleya said.

The annual lecture was held to honour Bornwell Chakaodza, who was the VMCZ deputy chairperson.

Chakaodza, a former editor with the Herald, The Standard and was once director of information, died in 2012.

Source : The Daily News

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