BY GARY GERALD MTHOMBENI

During the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa on November 24, 2017 at the National Sports Stadium, people sang and danced and waved banners as they read The dawn of a new era.

Mnangagwa gave a loud cheer when he vowed that “the voice of the people will be heard” while promising “free and fair elections” and the strengthening of the pillars of democracy, including a free press.

Media advocacy groups were quick to highlight the need to implement long overdue media reforms, such as the repeal of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).

Breaking with the past, media groups urged Mnangagwa to ensure the safety and security of journalists in the performance of their legal duties, including by aligning media laws and policies with the Constitution, as provided for. Articles 61 and 62 of the Constitution and other articles enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Articles 61 and 62 guarantee the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the media and access to information.

Aippa was not scrapped until three years later, in July 2020.

In its place came the law (Freedom of Information Act) which aimed to provide citizens and media professionals with the right to access information and to create legal frameworks and mechanisms for accessing information from citizens. public and private organizations.

But journalists and media advocacy organizations said nothing had really changed under Mnangagwa.

Instead, they said the country had regressed with the shrinking democratic space.

Journalists like Hopewell Chin’ono have become regular inmates in prison cells.

A latest Reporters Without Borders report on the promotion of media rights ranks Zimbabwe 130th out of 180 countries in 2021, four places against 126 in 2020.

Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) coordinator Njabulo Ncube said the country had witnessed pseudo-media reforms under Mnangagwa.

Ncube cited the Data Protection Law which contains provisions that undermine the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, as guaranteed by Article 61 of the Law
Constitution.

Section 164c of the law criminalizes the dissemination of what the government calls fake news online, punishable by imprisonment of up to five years, or a fine, or both.

“It is a well-calculated strategy to perpetuate the muzzling of the media. The Second Republic wants to appear to tick all the boxes as part of media reform, but that’s a facade. Look at the licensed community radios: Chimanimani community radio is chaired by the wife of the local deputy. It’s a trick, ”Ncube said.

A recent report released by the Southern African Media Institute (Misa) showing that 52 journalists were arrested, detained, harassed or assaulted in 2020 also dramatizes the state of press freedom in Zimbabwe.

The Southern African Media Institute (Misa Zimbabwe) describes freedom of the press as the right of journalists and media workers to perform their professional duties without hindrance while also being aware that freedom of the media and freedom of expression may also be subject to legal limitations that are justifiable in a democracy.

Misa Zimbabwe President Nyasha Nyakunu lamented the lack of media freedom in the country.

“Despite this constitutionally protected right, there are still laws that have an impact not only on the rights of journalists, but also on the right of citizens to free expression and access to information, including some Articles of Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Law), Official Secrets Law, Censorship and Entertainment Control Law and Interception of Communications Law, ”Nyakunu explained.

Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, photojournalist with Associated press, said: “Although freedom of the press exists, there is often no freedom after expressing one’s opinion or the opinion of the people. “

The Zinef coordinator said media freedom remained a mirage under Mnangagwa.

“What has changed is that the Minister of Information, his deputy and his staff have been more engaging than previous ministers under Mugabe,” Ncube said.

“What is needed are far-reaching media reforms in which self-regulation is anchored. Communities should be allowed to manage and operate community radio and television stations.

“What we have are handpicked and fragmented community broadcasting licenses. How do you explain the large cities being denied community broadcasting licenses? “

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