Journalist jail sentence signals ongoing media repression

Nevanji Madanhire

NewsDay Editor Nevanji Madanhire is another victim of the media clampdown

By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
28 April 2014

The jail sentence slapped on the editor of a Chinhoyi community newspaper signals an ongoing culture of media repression under ZANU PF.

This is according to exiled journalist Tanonoka Whande, who said on Monday that there can never be real change in Zimbabwe until there is an active, free media.

James Muonwa, editor-in-chief of the Western Star, was last week sentenced to a six month jail term for allegedly operating a media group without a valid licence from the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).

Last Thursday, Chinhoyi magistrate Jele Singandu said Muonwa contravened Section 72 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) which requires media houses to register with the ZMC.

The six month sentence was wholly suspended on condition Muonwa does not commit a similar offence in the next five years.

Whande told SW Radio Africa that the case “is proof that there is no media freedom or democracy in Zimbabwe.”

“There should be a lot more concern about the media situation in Zimbabwe. We are moving backwards and they (ZANU PF) should leave the media alone,” Whande said.

He added: “The media is still subservient to personal and political interests… you simply cannot have democracy without a free media.”

AIPPA, along with the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), were listed as two key pieces of legislation that needed reform as part of a roadmap towards democratic elections. Those reforms never happened before the disputed polls last July.

Instead, ZANU PF walked away as ‘victors’ with the repressive laws still firmly in place. The nature of the laws means anyone critical of the party, including media groups, activists and others, can still be targeted with arrest.

“Those safeguards that were meant to guarantee the freedom of the press and the freedom of the people are still not being dealt with. And now, no one can do anything, only ZANU PF can do what it wants,” Whande said.

Meanwhile, two journalists from the NewsDay newspaper were interrogated for several hours on Monday by the police, over an article that blamed the cops for the death of a three year old boy last week.

The child, Neil Mutyora, died last Tuesday after being knocked down by a commuter omnibus driver, who was fleeing police officers. NewsDay published an article titled “Chihuri, you are responsible”, stating that police chief Augustine Chihuri needed to take responsibility for the role of the cops in the child’s death.

NewsDay Editor Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Moses Matenga were questioned along with company secretary Sifikile Thabete, after they reported at Harare Central Police Station. They were interrogated for almost seven hours and accused of publishing ‘false statements prejudicial to the State’.

Madanhire and Matenga were charged with contravening the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and later released.

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