By Tichaona Sibanda
1 December 2010
The President of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Dumisani Sibanda, on Wednesday said the country is ‘sliding back to the pre-GPA era where journalists are being hunted down and terrorized by the state.’
Speaking on SW Radio Africa programme, The Hidden Story, Sibanda said it was a shame Zimbabwe was a primitive nation in this 21st century because of its retrogressive media laws.
‘How do you describe a situation where 30 years after independence we still don’t have independent radio and television stations? And for the government to say they don’t have capacity to free the airwaves is just ridiculous,’ the ZUJ President said.
ZUJ and other media organizations have started a campaign to try to pressure the inclusive government to free-up the airwaves.
Reform of the broadcast media sector was one of many issues agreed to by the coalition government and the regional SADC bloc has on several occasions called on the government to ‘enhance the work on reform and democratization of the media.’
When SADC met in Namibia in August for an extraordinary summit they gave the fractured unity government 30 days to implement the agreed issues, which included freeing up the airwaves. But the GNU did nothing in response to this deadline and SADC did not hold them to it.
Media reforms are seen as vital to lead the nation down a path to free and fair elections, due to be held next year. But Mugabe and his ZANU PF loyalists have ignored or blocked all attempts to free the airwaves, in an effort to cling on to power using the ZBC to churn out its propaganda.
Sibanda, a recent victim of the police crackdown, is of the view that these latest arrests and harassment of journalists is just the beginning.
‘I’m quite disappointed by the crackdown on journalists. I thought the signing of the Global Political Agreement would end such practices, as the three leaders of political parties in Parliament committed themselves to reform the media and reflect what we thought was an emerging democracy,’ Sibanda.
‘We will see more of this (arrests and intimidation of journalists) as we edge closer to an election. The whole idea is to suppress and intimidate scribes so that they don’t report on events taking place in the country.
‘But I think it is foolhardy to adopt such a stance because in this age of technology you can’t close out information. It’s virtually impossible. During the last election, people had results and reports of violence in an instant through the use of mobile phones,’ Sibanda said.
On the increasing crackdown on scribes, the ZUJ President said they were totally against the incarceration of journalists as they were being treated like criminals.
‘We are not advocating for lawlessness journalism, what we are saying is if there are people who are aggrieved by articles written in newspapers, they should seek redress through the civil courts process.
‘A good example is that of Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe who is suing the Standard paper for defamation through the civil courts,’ he added.
The ZUJ President said media organizations in Zimbabwe are trying to encourage the use of a voluntary media council to deal with issues raised by people against journalists.