The International Federation of Journalists sent a mission to Harare, Zimbabwe, this week to investigate the threat of press freedom on journalists (local and foreign in that country). Below is a text statement from IFJ executive member Farhana Ismail, delivered on Press Freedom Day which also formed the basis of a debate held by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, an affiliate of the IFJ. The debate was held in Harare attended by ZANU-PF's Minister without Portfolio, Eddison Zbvogo and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Movement for Democratic Change. INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF JOURNALISTS (IFJ)
HARARE, ZIMBABWE (MAY 3, 2000)
As the world celebrates Press Freedom Day today, the IFJ notes with concern that in Zimbabwe the freedom of the press and the publicís right to know is under severe threat from the government. Not only are international and constitutionally guaranteed standards of freedom of expression being limited and constrained, but generally accepted professional and ethical standards of journalism are also being compromised in Zimbabwe.
The assault on the media comes at a time when intense political maneuvering place in a country caught in a grip of civil strife, a country with no respect for basic principles of human rights, with no mechanisms to ensure impartiality in news coverage, and where the overriding principle for journalists to report fairly without fear of victimization, death threats and intimidation is not observed.
In the recent weeks, the IFJ, a trade union federation of journalists from across the globe have received reports of intimidation against journalists here (local and foreign); disturbing news of a bomb attack on a newspaper office (Daily News), death threats and physical attacks on journalists including a horrific scene in which a Daily News team was held hostage by ìwar veteransî who stole the teamís cameras and identity documents and the attack on other reporters and photographers covering the conflict here, hostility to media workers, including photographer Obed Zilwa from South Africa, who was unlawfully detained on suspicion of being a bomber; intimidation to journalists working in the state media to toe the ruling ZANU-PF line; personal intervention of the Minister of Information Chen Chimutengwende to dictate editorial content to state media and in some instances excluding privately owned media journalists from government press conferences ;and the blatant political coverage on a discriminatory basis.
Other incidents of the violation of press freedom recorded included the unceremonious passing of the Post and Telecommunications Act which gives the government the right to monitor telephone calls and e-mail, hindering once again the blatant right to access of information.
The recent death threats against journalists, including the as yet uninvestigated case of Zimbabwe Union of Journalists General Secretary Basildon Peta who was sent three bullets in the post by persons unknown to him all exemplify a determined onslaught on the independent media.
Minister Chimutengwende refused to hold a meeting with the IFJ representative Farhana Ismail who came to Zimbabwe to discuss the violations on Press freedom. At the first request, he suggested that the IFJ deals with Minister of State Security Sydney Sekeramayi, a development that is very surprising. After several attempts Chimutengwende referred the IFJ to his deputy director, Edward Mamutse who insisted the media in Zimbabwe failed to recognise the information ministry thus creating the hostile environment media workers operated in. About impartiality of the state media, he insisted ìa government must be able to use the public media as an instrument for disseminating its policies and views.
This we find shocking and disturbing as the public right to know to be impartially and fully informed has been limited.
As we celebrate world press freedom day, we call on the Zimbabwe government to include in the constitution explicit guarantees of media freedom and freedom of information; the appointment of an independently-appointed Independent Communications Authority to regulate broadcasting; and to embrace the need to launch commercial broadcasting.
As the IFJ and through our affiliate the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and other trade unions, and international human rights bodies, we will not hesitate to enlist international support to protest against the blatant attacks on press freedom in Zimbabwe.
Issued by Farhana Ismail, Executive member of the IFJ
Farhana Ismail, Sunday Tribune, PO Box 47549, Greyville 4023
Tel: 031-3082911, direct line: 031-3082389, fax: 031 - 3082715 or 3082193, Cell: 0827876987