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DW Freedom

Zimbabwe: Failing to uphold press freedom

Zimbabwe like the rest of the world will commemorate global press freedom day. As Privilege Musvanhiri writes, the government’s progress in upholding that freedom leaves much to be desired.

Experiences from my 12 years of working as a journalist in Zimbabwe have made me to conclude there is no guaranteed press freedom in the country even with the existence of a new constitution that guarantees all fundamental freedoms. I have experienced unnerving moments and near misses. Most of these have sometimes left me pondering whether it is worth working as a journalist or better giving up and finding alternatives.

Press freedom in Zimbabwe remains restricted, as promised reforms to liberalize the legal and regulatory environment after years of authoritarian abuse are only happening slowly. There are legal harassments and attempts to extend regulatory controls over journalists, particularly those who work for the few independent print media outlets.

It is a requirement according to Zimbabwe's laws to have an annual license that authenticates one to be a journalist. Unlicensed journalists can face criminal charges and a sentence of up to two years in prison.

However many incidences have been recorded where journalists are assaulted or harassed even if they have government authority.

Zimbabweans, particularly law enforcement agencies, are paranoid about press photographers. It is not easy for one to pull out a camera in the street and take pictures.

Assaulted and beaten

Privilege Musvanhiri copyright: own

Privilege Musvanhiri

In September of 2014, I was beaten up by municipal traffic police officers for the offense of taking photographs of their clash with a commuter omnibus crew whose bus had been impounded for breaking a traffic law. I was assaulted with truncheons even after explaining that I was an accredited journalist.

To me press freedom would mean a guarantee for the state to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression and to guarantee the utmost safety of journalists.

In March 2013 we celebrated the passing on of a new constitution, which has all the provisions to guarantee freedom of the press, and safety of journalists but the situation has been different on the ground.

In March 2015, a local online business news platform The Source was raided by officials from the country's leading mobile telephone company Econet Wireless. The officials wanted to retrieve what they deemed sensitive information that had been stolen from the company.

Impunity

It is such impunity that has extended from the state to the corporate world, which continues to stifle press freedom in Zimbabwe.

When it comes to the safety of journalists, we have had situations where journalists have been abducted and detained without charge. On March 9 unknown assailants abducted journalist Itai Dzamara - his whereabouts remain unknown. Dzamara repeatedly spoke out against the government of President Robert Mugabe. This incident has shaken most journalists and it has only served to curtail freedom of expression.

The economic situation in Zimbabwe has not spared the operation of journalists and media houses either. Newspapers have shut down because of viability challenges. I was working for a local newspaper as an online editor but the paper shut down in March 2015. It is such a difficult situation to sustain a family as a journalist with one source of income because your economic security is not guaranteed.

I hope for a day when our media shall be free to promote the development and the prosperity of the nation.

Privilege Musvanhiri is a passionate online, photo and radio-journalist. He studied journalism in Harare and Berlin at the International Institute for Journalism and has worked for the ARD news network and Zeit online. He can barely make ends meet and his last newspaper, the Zimbabwe Mail, was forced to shut down. He's currently working as a trainer for the citizen journalism project "Mobile Community."