The World on 3 May 2023 commemorated World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) under the theme Shaping a future of rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.
As a build-up to the commemorations, MISA Zimbabwe, organised and convened a breakfast meeting in Harare on 2 May 2023 under the localised theme: Freedom of Expression as a Public Good: Pivotal to the Enjoyment of other Rights.
The meeting was a confluence of key stakeholders such as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), the Parliament of Zimbabwe, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), media and civil society, as they reflected on the theme.
Riding on the universal theme and the localised one, MISA Zimbabwe followed this up with provincial commemorations in Mutare, Masvingo, Gwanda, Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Kwekwe and Gweru on 6 May 2023.
Community Based Organisations participated in the meetings, during which they were made aware of access to information laws and other laws that impact freedom of expression, such as the Cyber and Data Protection Act.
The commemorations aimed to ensure communities are aware of their rights as enshrined in the Constitution and that there are also constitutional limitations on the exercise of these rights as provided by Section 86 on limitations of rights and freedoms.
The meetings also discussed the high data costs, which now compromise freedom of expression and access to information, which is of critical importance, especially during elections. Other issues pertained to the safety and security of journalists ahead of the 2023 elections.
In rural Masvingo, citizens urged the government to put more boosters (transmitters) in the area to improve access to the Internet.
Citizens were educated on the role of the media in promoting freedom of expression and urged to utilise the media in exercising their rights to fight vices such as gender-based violence and drug abuse. They were also enlightened on how to counter disinformation and misinformation.
Some of the meetings were held in rural areas to ensure no one is left behind in the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression.
In his 2023 WPFD statement, MISA Zimbabwe Chairperson, Golden Maunganidze, noted the significant progress that has been made through the repeal of the then repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act.
He, however, lamented the emergence of claw back provisions in new legislation such as the Cyber and Data Protection Act.
“We are, however, happy to report that following … nationwide meetings in partnership with the Zimbabwe Republic Police, and MISA Zimbabwe’s alliance partners under the auspices of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, no reports have been recorded of media freedom violations involving the police.
“This also comes on the backdrop of the one-on-one lobby meetings held early this year by MISA Zimbabwe with the country’s major political parties, ruling Zanu PF, Citizens Coalition for Change and MDC-T,” said Maunganidze.
“It is, therefore, our hope that this situation obtains ahead of and beyond the 2023 elections as the country continues with its media reforms agenda, of which the right to the exercise and enjoyment of freedom of expression and media freedom is critical for socio-economic stability and prosperity.”
He stressed that the right to freedom of expression should be underpinned by citizens that freely express themselves online and offline and through access to a media that operates professionally and without hindrance.