Media Institute of Southern Africa, Regional Office, Namibia
Statement, 23 May 2013
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) is greatly encouraged by the explicit provisions in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, which for the first time in the country’s history, guarantee media freedom and citizens’ right to access information. We believe that these constitutional provisions offer immense opportunities for the entrenchment of democracy and the enjoyment of fundamental rights in the country.
Hence, ahead of the harmonized elections, due July 31, 2013, MISA is particularly concerned about the safety and security of journalists in Zimbabwe, lack of access to information by citizens and abuse of public media resources. All this is of concern to us because the necessary media legislative reforms required to align the existing laws with the new Constitution have not yet taken place. MISA has previously stated the urgency of these reforms, noting that they are of significant importance ahead of the poll.
The failure to critically address and reform existing laws such as the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act (AIPPA), Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), Zimbabwe Broadcasting Act, Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act, Interception of Communications Act and the Official Secrets Act, is an unfortunate drawback that might have serious repercussions on how the forthcoming elections are conducted.
We feel Zimbabwe has missed an opportunity to make these laws conform with the new Constitution and also, other regional and international instruments that the country is signatory to. These instruments include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Banjul Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, Southern Africa Protocol on Sport, Culture and Information and the African Charter on Broadcasting.
We are concerned that in the absence of the said reforms, the SADC Guidelines and Principles on the Conduct of Democratic Elections will not be fully adhered to ahead of, during and immediately after the July 31 poll. As a result, Zimbabweans will not fully enjoy increased media freedom, their right to freedom of expression, assembly, association, and access to information.
MISA is also alarmed at the increase in media freedom violations in Zimbabwe over the past two months, since an election date was announced. In the first half of the year alone, Zimbabwe has already recorded over half of the total media freedom violations recorded and reported in 2012.
Several journalists have been harassed, beaten up and prevented from executing their duties by political actors, law-enforcement agencies and unknown assailants. This has induced a climate of fear among journalists and has given the indication that some areas in Zimbabwe may provide a hostile environment for journalists covering the forthcoming elections.
We reiterate that supporters of political parties should be educated that actions which undermine media freedom constitute serious violation of journalists’ constitutional right to media freedom and citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information.
We further urge political leaders to guard against making inflammatory statements that incite and excite their supporters to take the law into their own hands thus tarnishing the images of their respective parties and that of Zimbabwe.
MISA also calls upon media houses to appraise journalists covering elections on safety and security to reduce the significance of threats or attacks against journalists and media workers.
In the same breath, we encourage all journalists to strictly adhere to their codes of ethics and to observe the highest standards in reporting the elections by showing a commitment to professionalism, credibility and integrity.
MISA acknowledges the efforts that have been made by the observer teams from the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) and African Union in seeking the opinions of various media stakeholders, including MISA-Zimbabwe, ahead of the poll. We appreciate the efforts and will support further engagements towards securing a safe environment for journalists covering elections in Zimbabwe.
MISA thus demands that the following minimum conditions be met before the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe:
- SADC should insist that the Government of Zimbabwe guarantees that journalists covering the election story are allowed to conduct their lawful professional duties without hindrance as it is their constitutionally guaranteed right to media freedom.
- The government should order the police to firmly deal with these wanton acts of lawlessness which pose great risk to the lives of journalists, media workers as well as their families.
- Leaders of political parties should educate their supporters that their actions constitute serious violation of journalists’ constitutional right to media freedom and citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information.
- Political leaders should guard against making inflammatory statements that incite and excite their supporters to take the law into their own hands (against journalists) thus tarnishing the images of their respective parties and that of Zimbabwe.
- SADC should insist that ZEC enforces the SADC Principles on the Conduct of Democratic Elections where it pertains to political parties and citizens’ equal and equitable access to the state media, notably the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
- SADC should insist that authorities comply with the new constitution as it relates to securing the editorial independence and impartilaity of the state media
- Newspapers should be allowed to be circulated and freely distributed throughout the country as they play a critical role in citizens’ right to access information that will help them in making informed decisions and choices in the elections.
MISA wishes the people of Zimbabwe a peaceful, free, fair and credible election.
Signed and endorsed by:
MISA Regional Secretariat, Windhoek, Namibia
Information for editors: MISA is a non-governmental organisation with members in 11 of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries. Officially launched in September 1992, MISA focuses primarily on the need to promote free, independent and pluralistic media, as envisaged in the 1991 Windhoek Declaration. MISA seeks ways in which to promote the free flow of information and co-operation between media workers, as a principal means of nurturing democracy and human rights in Africa.