THE new Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution Nokhuthula Matsikenyeri, has vowed to work cordially with all journalists, from both private and public media to promote media freedom and freedom of access to information in the province.
Minister Matsikenyeri who is also the Chimanimani West legislator said this during a meeting with executive members of the Manicaland chapter of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Mutare Press Club and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe held last week Tuesday at her Office. The meeting was also attended by the Manicaland Provincial Coordinator Edgar Seenza and the deputy director in the Office of the Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution Lucky Bhasopo. The new resident Minister has currently been meeting with various government departments and private sector as part of her familiarisation tour.
During the meeting ZUJ Manicaland secretary Farai Matebvu called for inclusion of journalists in the devolution agenda as the fourth estate. “As media practitioners we hope we will be incorporated in the thematic committees to get firsthand information and also play an active role in the implementation of devolution. Gone are the days when journalists were uninvolved playing the watchdog role from a distance. We are citizens of Zimbabwe as well,” said Matebvu.
Mutare Press Club chairman Clayton Masekesa said among the key projects that journalists in Manicaland are looking forward to is the establishment of a provincial media centre. “We hope to get land for a media centre or space for this. We now have a lot of freelance journalists practising that need a safe working environment to operate from and this is what a media centre will enable. We also hope to benefit from empowerment programmes as journalists and not be excluded as was the case before,” said Masekesa.
The media lobby groups appealed to the resident Minister to shun harassment and unwarranted arrest of journalists who will be conducting their lawful professional duties in terms of their right to media freedom. Masekesa said the culprits in the law enforcement should be brought to account as this contradicts Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution, let alone other rights in the Bill of Rights with explicit provisions on citizens’ right to access to information.
Masekesa called for a free operating environment with regards to freedom of expression, access to information, digital rights and media freedom. In Manicaland last year there were a few cases of arrests or harassment of journalists compared to other provinces. There were only two cases, the first being of Chipinge Times editor Ellen Mlambo who received threats in September over “land grab” stories she was covering and that of NewsDay correspondent Kenneth Nyangani who was reportedly manhandled on December 8 at the Zanu PF provincial headquarters in Mutare, while covering demonstrations by some disgruntled party supporters.
MISA Zimbabwe revealed that in 2020 alone a total of 52 journalists and media workers (among them, newspaper vendors and media students), were either arrested, assaulted or harassed while conducting their lawful professional duties. According to the State of the media report 2020 issued in February by MISA Zimbabwe, several journalists were caught in the crossfire of the implementation of the 21-day national lockdown imposed at the end of March 2020, with several of them being harassed, assaulted or detained by the police and soldiers despite the media being declared an essential service in terms of the COVID-19 regulations.
Last year in July Government enacted the Freedom of Information Act, as part of the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), enacted in 2002. This was welcomed by media practitioners as one of the progressive steps taken by government towards the alignment of the country’s laws with the Constitution. Masekesa however said there is still resistance by some government departments to timeously reveal public information to the media and called on the new resident Minister to improve on this for the devolution agenda to become successful in Manicaland.
“While the Freedom of Information Act has since been signed into law, the government gazetted the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill, which is strong on surveillance of citizens and weak on balancing cybersecurity with the enjoyment of fundamental rights such as free expression online, privacy and protection of personal data. The government was also to announce its intentions to come up with a Patriot Bill, which if enacted, has the potential of curtailing the exercise of rights such as media freedom and freedom of expression, right to privacy, access to information, freedom of conscience, political rights, freedom to demonstrate and petition, and freedom of assembly and association,” reads part of the State of the media report 2020.
According to the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Day Index, Zimbabwe was positioned at 126 out of 180 countries ranked globally. Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries such as Namibia, South Africa and Botswana were ranked at 23, 31 and 39, respectively, so the ranking is reflective that more still needs to be done says MISA Zimbabwe in the 2020 report.
Minister Matsikenyeri who admitted that she is still learning the ropes of her new mandate during a historic era of implementing devolution, nonetheless vowed to support and work well with all journalists.
“The media plays a very important role in information dissemination and we need to work well with you. I have heard all your concerns and will keep them in mind. I thank you for meeting with me and hope we will work well together,” said Minister Matsikenyeri.