EACH year, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) accredits practicing journalists for a period of 12 months, in line with Section 79 of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). A registered journalist is then issued with an accreditation card as proof that he/she is recognised by ZMC, and is authorised to practice in Zimbabwe without any hindrance.
Among some of the privileges that come with being accredited as a journalist is the right to attend any national and public events with the express purpose of carrying out professional duties; making any recordings in connection with carrying out duties as a journalist and enquiring, gathering, receiving and disseminating information in Zimbabwe.
Such has been the case since 2002, when AIPPA was enacted.
Despite the law being in operation for close to 14 years, it is disappointing that journalists continue to encounter serious impediments when discharging their duties. What makes it more disturbing is that the very same people who should be safeguarding the rights of journalists are turning out to be the worst violators of the same. The nation has watched in horror, for many years, as police officers make life a living hell for journalists through harassment; persecution; arrests on trumped-up charges; and, at times, assaulting them.
Last week, anti-riot police severely assaulted a correspondent with a local State-owned daily for covering the violence that had broken out in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza.
After bashing the hapless scribe, the police officers seized his camera; but not before they had ordered him to delete the pictures that he had taken.
Such impunity has rubbed off on members of the municipal police as well.
Last year, Andrew Kunambura of the Financial Gazette was arrested by overzealous Harare municipal police officers for taking pictures of the officers while they were arresting vendors in the city centre.
Kunambura was detained at Harare Central Police Station for more than four hours only to be released without charge.
The list of journalists who are falling victim to rogue elements in the police is growing each year, and yet no action is being taken by the authorities.
Last week, national police spokesperson, chief superintended Paul Nyathi assured members of the Fourth Estate that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) was concerned about their safety.
“We want to assure journalists that their safety is guaranteed,” Nyathi was quoted saying.
“In this particular case, we will conduct investigations with a view to finding out what happened….as long as journalists are conducting their work in terms of the country’s laws, there is nothing that will hinder them from doing their job.”
Is that so?
While these are encouraging words from the ZRP, Nyathi still needs to be reminded that action speaks louder than words.
The many incidents recorded in the past and the length of time it has taken the powers-that-be to act on errant officers, who are turning journalists into punching bags, does very little to inspire confidence in the force.
Out of all the reported incidents, we don’t recall the police taking any action against any of their members who are making life difficult for journalists.
At this rate, we are allowing Zimbabwe to drift into a Burma of some sort — which is a deadly place for journalists.
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