Why Zimbabwe is still unsafe for journalists?

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BY TARUBEREKERA MASARA

The 3rd of May World Press Freedom Day commemorations  call attention a serious introspection on the threat which media in Zimbabwe is subject to that is a triple challenge of state, emergency of fake news and weak funding.

Journalists in Zimbabwe work under the heavy arm of repressive state apparatus in the case of private media and ideological state apparatus in the case of state funded media ,these arms  threaten,harrass and arrest the freedoms  of journalists  while trying to cover news.

This has been worsened by  the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the advocates of media freedoms space for free press has been suffocating ever since Covid 19 lockdown were decreed.

MISA ZIMBABWE advocacy group, said it has registered ” increased press freedom violations related to coronavirus coverage over the past one and a half months.”

It remains heartening that despite the progess we made as a country and humanity we see the existing space for freedom of the press and of expression narrow even more not only because of the inevitable changes in the way we do things but also, if not more so, from authorities’ uneven and often arbitrary implementation of the law and of measures ostensibly supposed to keep us safe.

Harrassment of journalists and emasculation of media freedoms have reigned supreme in the  Midlands province in the past under review.

Journalists Nyasha Majoni, Learnmore Nyoni, Mduduzi Masiya of Kwekwe and Kudzanai Musengi of Gweru fell victim of the rough edges of state crackdown on media freedoms and practice.

Freelance journalist Nyasha Majoni was on 27 January 2020 reportedly manhandled by police in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe who accused him of sending pictures and video clips of police arresting illegal money changers.

ZANU-PF youth assaulted Mduduzi Masiya, a photojournalist with Midlands Observer on 1 March 2019.

On the early days of Covid-19 Kudzanai Musengi was arrested in the central city of Gweru.

He was accused of working with an expired accreditation card.

The accusations of using out-of-date press cards ignore the Zimbabwe Media Commission’s recent statement that journalists could continue working with their 2019 press cards until the Commission got round to issuing 2020 cards.

These are clear threats against journalists and media workers.

The police and political activists engage in red-baiting, not just of activists but also journalists deemed critical of the administrations.

The cases of journalists in state run and alternative media getting arrested, detained or harrassed for doing their jobs litter the environment.

Fake news:

Across the world governments are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,against the challenge fake news which has become a source of frustration.

Fake news phenomenon as a ‘disinfodemic’.

Peddlers of fake news are disseminating propaganda and disinformation.

This has increased panic amongst the public and slowed the progress of the fight against the new coronavirus pandemic this has resulted in various retrogressive ways.

President Emerson Mnangagwa on 14th April threatened fake news peddlers with a jail sentence of 20 years.

Such a threat had crushing effects on media freedoms considering that the need to prevent violation cannot per se trump the exercise of free speech and free press, a preferred right whose breach can lead to greater evils.

These incidents act as a limitation to the freedom of expression including that of the press.

 In this regard, on World Press Day – 3 May – the UN Secretary General emphasised the role of the press as an ‘antidote’ to the ‘disinfodemic’.

Precarious employment post Covid-19 pandemic:

Aside from the risks of covering news, post the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists also face uncertainty in their jobs as measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading has affected businesses.

Many journalists, especially freelancers and correspondents in the provinces, are likely to fall on hard times since they work outside formal contractual arrangements mostly on pay per story or pay per veiwer basis due to budget constraints many are cornered.

Although there is a growing recognition of stress and trauma as part of the risks journalists face, no clear programs set up by media groups and the  media support outfits like  Zimbabwe  Union of Journalists to cushion its constituency post Covid 19 pandemic new normal.

As we speak there are hardly any readily available and sustained support systems for media or media related businesses

It is again important to note that the contractual media workers, who are covered by ‘no work, no pay’ policies, face uncertainty as their outfits cut down on production or cancel programs.

There is are obvious fears of widespread job cuts should the crisis drag on and cut deeper into already falling revenues.

A new UNESCO report, tied to World Press Freedom Day, sized up some of the pandemic’s effect on the press.

Among them: “The economic impact of Covid-19 may pose an existential threat to journalism” and “some regulatory measures have led to new restrictions of human rights.”

All this further suffocate the media.

Poor Funding:

The media space is facing a bleak future especially aftermathof the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown period.

Media is a capital intensive industry thats feeds off an economical sound environments.

Post Covid 19 the economic activities in Zimbabwe are likely to shrink, this will directly impact on the well being of the media. Without means freedoms are limited and often corrupted.

Forecasts by the International Monetary Fund said Zimbabwe’s economy would shrink by as much as 7.5% this year owing to the effects of the pandemic, this will directly affect media lifeblood.

Every year since 1993, May 3 has been World Press Freedom Day, as recognized by the United Nations, newsrooms, and non-profit organizations all around the globe.

This year many of the planned in-person events were scrapped in favor of virtual panel discussions and meet-ups because of the pandemic.

Many of 03 May official statements were also reflective of the current crisis.

“As the pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.

“The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”

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