Statement on World Press Freedom Day

"The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by a despotic government

Thomas Jefferson

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition joins the rest of the world in marking the World Press Freedom Day, held annually in commemoration of the principle of Press Freedom and to honour journalists who have sacrificed their lives while conducting their duties. In any democracy, the media play a fundamental role as the fourth estate tasked with monitoring government activities. As such, the level of media freedom in any given society is a reflection of the level of democracy in that state.

This year's World Press Freedom day comes against the backdrop of the first anniversary of the inclusive government formed in February 2009 as per the September 2008 Inter-party Political Agreement (IPA). Under Article 17 of the IPA, parties agreed to institute immediate legislative reforms while Article 19 acknowledged the role of the media in a democratic establishment and called for the promotion of plurality through licensing of media houses.

Although the inclusive government made such declarations, little has been done to improve the operating environment of the media. Repressive laws, reminiscent of the Ian Smith colonial regime such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Interception of Communications Act (ICA), Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and Public Order and Security Act (POSA) remain while registration of new media is yet to take place. The registration of the NewsDay under the Alpha Media stable (publishers of The Standard and The Independent) and the re-registration of the banned 'Daily News' remain shelved. On the other hand, the publicly owned and state controlled Zimpapers launched two newspapers since the consummation of the IPA, Harare Metro and Midlands Chronicle while the sole public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation launched one television channel, Channel 2 despite failure by responsible authorities to register private players.

More worrying are reports of continued threats and harassment of media practitioners by the state and its agents. Freelance journalists, Stanley Gama and Stanley Kwenda and four journalists with Alpha Media, Vincent Kahiya, Nevanji Madanhire, Feluna Nleya and Jennifer Dube have been victims of harassment from members of the police force including notorious human rights abuser, Detective Inspector Makedenge. Kwenda is currently in exile. The cases of these six journalists show the continued repression of members of the media fraternity by state agents.

The commemoration also comes at a time when Zimbabweans are in the middle of a constitution making process. Most constitutions around the world include a clause which guarantees Press Freedom yet the Zimbabwean constitution is mum on this aspect. It is important that in the envisaged constitution, Freedom of the Press be guaranteed.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition calls upon the inclusive government to;

a) Ensure a liberated media environment where the rules of entry into the industry are determined by the principles of supply and demand

b) Repeal all repressive laws including AIPPA, POSA, ICA and BSA which hinder operations of journalists

c) Ensure the inclusion of Freedom of the Press in the Zimbabwean constitution

d) Discourage the arrests and intimidation of media practitioners particularly by the state and its agents

e) Promote self regulation of the media as opposed to state regulation.

The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."

Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823. ME 15:491

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