ON World Press Freedom Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) pays tribute to the brave media practitioners in Zimbabwe and across the globe, who continue to pursue the truth despite the persecution they often endure from autocratic governments.
As we reflect on the importance of a free press to Zimbabwe’s democracy, ZLHR calls upon government to uphold and promote media freedom in the country, in accordance with the constitutional obligations and to desist from the practice of persecuting journalists and other media practitioners.
Commemorated annually on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, was established by a proclamation of the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993 and is an opportunity for everyone to show solidarity with members of the press, journalists and other media professionals. It is also an opportunity for members of the public to salute and honour the journalists and media professionals who have lost their lives while working to disseminate information to the public. World Press Freedom Day is also an opportunity for the public to demand press freedom and the protection of journalists from their governments.
The theme for World Press Freedom Day in 2022 is “Journalism under digital siege.” The theme highlights the risks that digital surveillance and internet hacking pose to press freedom. Governments across the world are using digital surveillance to target journalists who are working to expose abuses of power, human rights violations, corruption and administrative incompetence. This targeting of journalists through digital platforms has a chilling effect on the journalists who work tirelessly to ensure government accountability and transparency. The targeted journalists are often tracked down, arrested and detained by the authorities. The digital surveillance of journalists and other members of the press violates democratic principles, which prioritise press freedom and freedom of expression.
Press freedom is also being undermined by internet hacking. Autocratic governments across the globe are hacking journalists communication systems in order to expose their information sources and whistle-blowers within governments. Such hacks violate the fundamental principle of source protection, which requires the authorities to desist from exposing the sources that are relied upon by journalists when they are performing their work. This fundamental principle is considered to be essential for press freedom by many countries across the globe. The hacking of journalists in order to expose whistle-blowers undermines effective journalism because it discourages ordinary citizens from exposing malpractices by governments, out of fear of being persecuted and arrested for revealing the truth.
In Zimbabwe, journalists continue to be targeted, arrested and detained by the authorities for their work. The authorities accuse journalists of being anti-government whenever they expose administrative malpractices, corruption and gross human rights violations by the government. These systematic attacks on journalists and other media personnel for their work violates the constitutionally-protected right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media. In terms of section 61(2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, every person is entitled to freedom of the media, which freedom includes protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information.
The Zimbabwean authorities also undermine press freedom in the country by failing to ensure impartiality within the state-controlled media. The state-controlled media promotes the causes of the ruling party, to the exclusion of opposing views. This state of affairs continues to prevail despite the fact that the state has a constitutional obligation to ensure impartiality and equal opportunity within state-owned media. All state-owned media must be impartial and provide a fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions, in terms of section 61(4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. ZLHR urges the authorities to comply with their constitutional obligation to ensure impartiality within state-owned media.
On this World Press Freedom Day, ZLHR calls upon:
- The public to salute the brave journalists in Zimbabwe and across the globe; who continue to pursue the truth despite the persecution they often face from autocratic governments;
- Government to uphold and promote press freedom in Zimbabwe, in accordance with their constitutional obligations;
- Government to comply with its constitutional obligation to ensure impartiality within state-owned media.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
No. 103 Sam Nujoma Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: (+263 8677005347, +263 242 764085/705370/708118
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