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Constraints to freedom of expression highlighted in report of mission to Zimbabwe by team of African media experts

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is an abridged report by AFMF, IFJ, MISA and other organisations:

Against the odds: Covering Zimbabwe in a climate of fear and physical danger
Report of a Mission to Zimbabwe, 9 - 13 June 2008

1. Background

A mission to examine close at hand the media in Zimbabwe was undertaken from 8 to 13 June 2008 by a team of African media experts. The mission was made up of representatives of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ Africa Office based in Senegal), Southern Africa Editors' Forum (SAEF), Southern Africa Journalists Association (SAJA), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Office and the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) represented by Africa Free Media Foundation based in Kenya.

The purpose of the mission to Zimbabwe was to ascertain the conditions of media and freedom of expression in the country in the light of the arrests of journalists, both local and foreign, and the deteriorating freedom of expression environment. This mission took place in the context of the forthcoming Presidential election run off slated for 27 June 2008, and therefore also had the objective to assess the possibilities for the media to provide the citizens with relevant information and news in order to vote on an informed basis.

The mission met a number of Zimbabwean journalists, editors and media owners working in Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare, Masvingo and Mutare and a cross section of representatives of local civic organisations working countrywide.

2. Current Situation

2.1 Zimbabwe harmonised elections

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With respect to media coverage for the elections, local and foreign media was required to apply for accreditation to cover the elections, with applications being dealt with by ZEC for local journalists. Local journalists need to be accredited by the government appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC) to get election accreditation. Foreign journalists had to apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before being accredited by the ZEC. Despite the fact that the ZEC said it would accredit all local journalists who produce MIC accreditation cards, many were denied accreditation. Organisations such as MISA have it on good record that the Ministry of Information and Publicity as well as the MIC gave ZEC a list of local journalists who were not to be accredited.

Just like in the case of observers, the government insured that only those media considered friendly to the government received accreditation to cover the elections. The result was that international media groups like BBC and CNN and South African e-TV were denied accreditation.

(. . .)

In the aftermath of the 29 March 2008 election, there has been an escalation in incidents of reported violence against opposition party activists as well as the continued arrests, intimidation and harassment of journalists.

(. . .)

2.2. Media Environment

2.2.1. Media Law Reform

Prior to the holding of the harmonised elections on March 29, 2008, Zimbabwe had amended some sections of AIPPA [Access to Information and Protection to Privacy Act] and BSA [Broadcasting Services Act], as part of the inter-party negotiations between ZANU PF and the two factions of the MDC. However, the amendments had been dismissed as inconsequential by Zimbabwe media freedom organisation, MISA-Zimbabwe.

The government had assured the ACHPR [African Commission on Human and People's Rights] that media would be consulted during the process leading to the enactment of the amendments, but MISA reported to the ACHPR that no such consultation had taken place.

(. . .)

AIPPA was used to ban local and foreign journalists from covering the March elections and will likely be used to ban journalists from covering the June 27 Presidential election run-off. The Broadcasting law has been used to maintain a de facto state monopoly of the airwaves through the ZBC. POSA is still being used to ban civic society and opposition parties from assembling, marching or organising any form of open protest. At the time of writing this report, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists were in police custody after marching against state repression in Harare.

Civic society organisations' representatives talked to reported that they had virtually suspended work in outlining areas and meetings of civic groups are also restricted, and offices often raided and staff arrested. It is evident, therefore, that media law reform in Zimbabwe remains a critical issue but more importantly, [so does] a culture of appreciating the necessity, role and place of media in society.

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Africa Free Media Trust
International Federation of Journalists
Media Institute of Southern Africa

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