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Zimbabwe's first lady lashes out at privately-owned media

MISA-Zimbabwe notes with very grave concern recent attacks and threats against the privately owned media, by Zanu PF and government officials, including the First Lady Grace Mugabe, which pose serious risks to the safety and security of journalists.

While the media is not immune to criticism, the First Lady's inciting statements particularly against journalists working for the Daily News at a Zanu PF rally in Marondera on 17 October 2014, were indeed frightening, as experienced and recounted by the affected journalists.

Daily News journalist Fungai Kwaramba was among the posse of journalists at Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera when the First Lady spoke out against journalists working for the publication, demanding that they identify themselves.

According to media reports, the atmosphere at Rudhaka stadium was highly charged, given the enmity among supporters of the different factions within Zanu PF who could easily have taken the law into their own hands.

One can only shudder to think of what could have befallen the journalist if he had stood up and identified himself, among hundreds of the highly agitated party supporters, as demanded by the First Lady.

Earlier, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Secretary George Charamba was reported on ZTV on 8 October 2014 issuing another threat against the media. He was quoted saying although government preferred persuasion, it can also resort to administering "unpalatable instruments" to reign in any media deemed to be unprofessional.

This followed a NewsDay report alleging that the First Lady had fired 30 employees from the First Family's Kutama homestead. The paper subsequently issued a retraction on the story in question.

MISA-Zimbabwe urges politicians and public officials who wield immense power to exercise emotional restraint when addressing their excitable supporters, mindful of the fact that journalists have the constitutional right to cover events as they unfold, without hindrance or threats from the mighty and powerful.

Journalists, as is the case with any other citizens, should instead feel safe when in the company of the First Lady or any other influential persons who have the constitutional obligation of ensuring their right to personal security.

In fact, those in leadership positions should be the frontline persons in upholding the founding provisions and values of the Constitution, which, among others, binds every person to the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Among these fundamental rights and freedoms are Sections 61 and 62 which provide for freedom of expression and media freedom and the right to access to information. The public have the right to access to information, and for them to enjoy that right the media is constitutionally protected to gather the same, without any hindrance.

That, of course, does not give the media absolute freedom to publish untruths. Journalists should rigorously subject information gathered to ethical fact checks and balances of the profession and where they err, take necessary steps to retract any untruths within a fair and reasonable time.

MISA-Zimbabwe therefore urges the First Lady, or any other person, for that matter, who feels aggrieved by the media, to seek correction of such untruths or approach the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe for redress, without resorting to inciting violence and hatred against the media.

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