An extensive three-year EU project to support independent media in Zimbabwe has finished. DW Akademie's project manager and the head financial officer review the results and voice restrained optimism for the media there.
DW Akademie conducted the project "Media in Zimbabwe: Key Factor in Promoting Human Rights and Freedom of Expression" from 2010 - 2013. It was financed by the European Commission. Eight additional partners took part in the project, including local media organizations as well as international players involved in media development cooperation initiatives.
Tonderai Mazingaizo is Program Manager/Deputy Director for the partner organization MMPZ (Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe) and the EU project's Chief Financial Officer. He was involved in the project from the start. DW Akademie project manager Dominique Thierry supervised the project from March 2013 until it finished in September.
How did Zimbabwe's media environment look when the project got underway in 2010?
Mazingaizo: The media - newspapers, radio and television - were all controlled by the state; it had the monopoly on information, and the media never printed or broadcasted controversial comments. Still, there was a sense of optimism following the 2008 elections. The new division of power between the president and the parliament had people hoping there would be more freedoms, including for the media and in terms of access to information. For the first time there was also something approaching an opposition.
Given these parameters what were the project's goals?
Thierry: We wanted to bring media professionals together for dialogues and to also include those in Zimbabwe who were interested in having a free press. We wanted to pool the media's capacity for change and enhance qualifications for journalists. The project also aimed to improve journalists' working and living conditions, and to launch a campaign for legal reforms guaranteeing freedom of the press and access to information. The idea was to link media and society.
What was DW Akademie's role?
Mazingaizo: DW Akademie had several important functions, including supervising the project's development, bringing together potential partners for discussions or cooperation initiatives, and making sure that there was an ample exchange of information between all participating players.
Thierry: DW Akademie also provided valuable technical and journalistic expertise as well as essential information on issues such as the need in Zimbabwe for journalism training. We conducted a survey on training wishes and found that they did not just apply to content but also to the type of training. There was, for example, a strong desire for in-house training.
What was the project able to achieve in the three years?
Mazingaizo: We provided basic and advanced training for many journalists - several hundred, in fact, attended our workshops. We were also able to pool and develop our partners' expertise, for example, by coaching them on how to more effectively streamline their workflow. We were able to convince many media professionals of the benefits of cooperation initiatives despite the competitive environment they work in, and we were able to bring specific local and international players together.
Thierry: In our community workshops we also showed people how to network and access information. We were especially active in communities where there was no access to the media. With networks, however, people learned that by coming together they could get news, share it with others and learn how to view it critically. We also helped create and strengthen media alliances and forums.
How do you see Zimbabwe's media environment developing over the next several years?
Mazingaizo: I'm not expecting any major changes in the near future. Things remain oppressive, given Zimbabwe's economic situation and the dangers journalists face. There's still no law that guarantees freedom of the press or access to information. The realignment of repressive laws like AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and POSA (Public Order and Security Act) to the new constitution is yet to be implemented and shows that these media law reforms are not a priority. The government did not include them in the current legislative calendar.
Thierry: We're glad that there's a new constitution which includes a bill of rights and freedom of expression and assembly. The problem, though, is that the constitution is not yet in effect as media laws have not been changed. The state media still have the monopoly and journalists are regularly imprisoned without a judicial order.
Mazingaizo: Journalists are aware of the situation - they know their rights regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The media organizations, by working together, now also know more about what a change could look like.
Thierry: We hope that we've helped create a critical mass among those who value freedom of the press and who will be able to clearly express their need for independent, quality journalism.