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'Change your attitude law enforcers'

by Daniel Itai, Harare Zimbabwe
26 Apr 2020 at 08:09hrs | Views
On Monday the 20th of this month, High Court Judge, Jacob Manzunzu ruled in favor of freelance journalist Panashe Makufa who is also a member of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in a case between him and law enforcement agents which clarified that all journalists form part of the essential services.

Prior to that, journalists who were not part of state owned media had been detained, harassed and charged for allegedly breaking the lockdown regulations which were instigated by the country's President, Emmerson Mnangagwa over three weeks ago.

Although some viewed the High Court verdict as a break of a new dawn they were mixed sentiments amongst some of the country's top media lobby institutions.

"The MISA case is a positive development but the problem in Zimbabwe is adhering to Court judgments, there can be excellent laws but sticking to the law is always problematic, while the judgement is positive what needs to be seen is whether law enforcement agents abide by the Court rulings.

It is imperative that government and law enforcement agents allow members of the press to perform their duties without any hindrance, the Covid epidemic needs all arms of the state and the media to work hand in hand in ensuring that citizens get correct information on the disease," said Lofty Dube, director of Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ).

Mlondolozi Ndlovu who is a former victim of the heavy handedness of the government and also the leader of the Young Journalists Association (YOJA) said the freedom of journalists was still a milestone away.

"To date, we have had three of our YOJA members harassed and detained by law enforcement agents since the start of the lockdown despite them being part of the essential services as per the lockdown regulations.

Section 61 and 62 of the Constitution are clear on the mandate of journalists regardless, the law enforcement agents do not adhere to it, if you take a look at the issue of Defamation, it was removed from being part of the media laws but it's still being used, what is needed is a change of attitude by the law enforcement agents and the government at large, so the High Court ruling although commendable is not feasible until there is a change of attitude," said Ndlovu.

However, MISA Zimbabwe's Legal and ICT Policy Officer Nompilo Simanje said, "we are now using a new SI 93 of 2020 which now clearly illustrates that journalists and newspaper vendors are part of the essential services as announced by the President following his announcement on the extension of the lockdown.

Prior to that, we had been using SI 83 of 2020 which cited communication and telecommunications as essential services without proper clarity so I believe that's why journalists received a lot of harassment.

However, the High Court ruling was a victory for us as law enforcement agents are now refrained from harassing journalists regardless, we need a lot of new media Bills to be put in place such as the Freedom of Information Bill, the Data Protection Bill and the ZMC Bill which is supposed to take cognisance of new regulations."

Nigel Nyamutumbu coordinator of Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) also welcomed the verdict, "the  High Court ruling in which the police were ordered to respect the journalism profession and to ensure that media workers are not hindered from carrying out their critical function in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is thus welcome and the ruling should be observed."

A lot of international humanitarian organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and the United Nations amongst others have become wary of the way governments are executing their powers through their lockdown regulations.

Source - Daniel Itai, Harare Zimbabwe