As Zimbabwe’s by-elections slated for 26 March 2022 draw close, media professionalism and journalists’ safety are of vital importance to ensure citizens’ access to accurate and verifiable information for informed choices and decisions.
Political parties, the police and other state security agents, and the media, have a shared national responsibility to ensure that the elections are held in a conducive and peaceful environment in terms of their constitutional mandates and obligations.
In that regard, political parties should be on guard against inflammatory rhetoric that has the potential of engendering hostility against journalists in violation of the right to media freedom which is at the core of citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information.
It is therefore the responsibility of political parties and the police to ensure the safety and security of journalists during campaign rallies and at all times.
Where politicians or any other aggrieved parties for that matter, feel the media is erring in the coverage of their events, they should lodge their complaints with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Media Commission or the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for speedy adjudication and resolution of such complaints.
Aggrieved parties should also be given the right of reply in the event of any misrepresentations by the media. This will go a long way in fostering media accountability and professionalism.
It is also the immense responsibility of journalists to report accurately, truthfully and fairly when covering such events as this is at the core of the profession’s ethics and media credibility and integrity.
Journalists should, and without fail, always strive for balance and fairness in their reportage and stories. In that regard, media professionalism is the very first line of defense for journalists as it is at the heart of media credibility and integrity.
Equally, journalists should familiarise themselves with the profession’s safety and security guidelines to minimise the risks that come with their chosen profession.
Where applicable, media houses should swiftly address and correct unprofessional conduct by their journalists where this is highlighted or brought to their attention.
Above all, journalists should always be mindful of the limitations that come with fundamental rights and freedoms such as media freedom as provided for in terms of Section 86 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
MISA Zimbabwe therefore urges politicians, responsible authorities and the entire nation to ensure journalists conduct their lawful professional duties without hindrance for the good of society and the country’s socio-economic prosperity.
This cannot be achieved if journalists are unlawfully arrested, threatened, assaulted or intimidated during the course of their professional duties.
It is also MISA Zimbabwe’s well considered view and advice that journalists should refrain from participating in political processes if they still want to continue practicing journalism in order for them to still retain the much-needed neutrality while conducting their professional duties and covering electoral processes.
MISA Zimbabwe conducted a post-election media self-assessment conference in the aftermath of the 2018 elections during which journalists discussed the ethical issues that arise from journalists who participate in electoral battles and then return to the newsroom when they fail to make it in politics.
The journalists, editors and media practitioners made a key resolution to: “Engage publishers, editors and the VMCZ to address the thorny and controversial issue of journalists that participate in elections as candidates in order to protect the integrity of the profession.”
On the other hand, if journalists fail to conduct themselves professionally, society will suffer from lack of accurate information and fall victim to falsehoods and manipulative information that will compromise informed decisions and choices.