WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
[3rd May 2023]
Shaping a Future of Rights
Freedom of Expression as a Driver for all Other Human Rights
VERITAS joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day. This day is commemorated each year on May 3 as an opportunity to highlight the crucial role of press freedom in promoting Human Rights, Democracy and Development. Governments across the world are reminded of their duty to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression -a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
May 3 was chosen as World Press Freedom Day because it marks the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, a landmark document adopted by African journalists in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991. The declaration called for a free, independent, and pluralistic press in Africa and recognised the crucial role that journalists play in promoting democracy and development.
This year’s commemorations in Zimbabwe come in the backdrop in the face of multiple crises that include human rights abuses and the shrinking media freedom, journalists’ safety and freedom of expression.
The Theme for World Press Freedom Day 2023
The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2023 is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights”. This theme focuses on the critical role of freedom of expression in promoting and protecting other human rights. Freedom of expression is not only a fundamental right in itself, but also a precondition for the exercise of many other rights. It enables individuals to express their opinions, seek and receive information, participate in public life, and hold those in power accountable. Without freedom of expression, individuals are deprived of their ability to advocate for their rights and challenge abuses of power.
However, press freedom is under threat in many parts of the world, with journalists and media workers facing harassment, intimidation, arrest, violence and even death for doing their job. This not only violates their human rights but also undermines the ability of the media to perform its informative role in society.
Decline n Press Safety: 66 Journalists Killed in 2022
In 2022, the International Press Institute IPI Database of Killed Journalists documented a total of 66 journalists who were killed in connection with their work or lost their lives on assignment. Eight were female and 58 were male.
IPI’s database categorizes journalist killings into five categories. There were 39 targeted killings in 2022, meaning that journalists were murdered due to their work. Seven journalists were killed while covering armed conflict. Two were killed while covering civil unrest and two lost their lives while on assignment. In the remaining 16 cases, the circumstances and motive behind the journalist’s killing remain unconfirmed, but a work-related killing cannot be ruled out.
Another journalists’ watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists says the number of killings of journalists around the world jumped by 50 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year, driven largely by attacks in Ukraine, Mexico and Haiti. According to a report released earlier this year by the CPJ, a New York-based media watchdog, at least 67 news media workers were killed worldwide in 2022, the highest number since 2018, with more than half (35) taking place in Ukraine, Mexico and Haiti.
Freedom of Expression in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression but there are limited statutory laws that give effect to the relevant constitutional provisions. Since Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, there has been a general disregard of freedom of expression and the state has focused on passing laws and practices that entrench violations of freedom of expression.
Reprisals under the Mnangagwa administration remain alarmingly high and journalists are now forced to exercise self-censorship routinely. The police often use disproportionate force and confiscate equipment from journalists. As Zimbabwe gears towards the 2023 elections, we have noticed an upsurge in the number of attacks and arrests of journalists at a time political parties are intensifying their campaigns.
Most of the journalists attacked in the past year were covering politics, corruption, security and justice issues. Among journalists who have been arrested and arraigned before the courts are Blessed Mhlanga, Chengeto Chidi, Toneo Rutsito, Ruvimbo Muchenje, Pellagia Mpurwa, Godwin Mangudya, Dunmore Mundai, Moreblessing Nyoni and Desmond Chingarande.
Unfortunately, there seems to be impunity for police officers involved in the harassment of journalists as no one has been charged despite reports being made to the authorities and their identities known. Journalist are essential to establishing justice and the rule of law in our country and it is absolutely essential that they must be protected by the rule of law and the justice system.
A flourish opposition is an essential feature of a constitutional democracy. The curtailing of expression has also been extended to opposition activists. They have been arrested and brought to courts on charges of communicating falsehoods. Among the political activists convicted in the past year are opposition Citizens Coalition for Change activist Fadzayi Mahere and Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume. The culture of fear that arrests inculcate is eroding State Institutors – there has been little speaking about violation of the law and constitution by Independent Commissions who are also guardians of our constitutional democracy. When highly respected organisation such as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference spoke out about their fears for the coming elections they were more or less told by a ruling party spokesperson that they “taint” the country’s election.
Veritas urges all journalists and media outlets to prioritize factual, balanced, and impartial reporting to promote public trust ahead of the 2023 harmonised elections.
In the same breath, we call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to protect journalists who are doing their work, amend and repeal laws such as the Cyber and Data Protection Act that impinge journalists work or force them to exercise self-censorship in order to avoid falling foul of the laws.
We further implore the government to reconsider the Criminal Law (Codification and Reforms) Act Amendment Bill (Patriotic Bill) which seeks to criminalise any person who engages with foreign governments officials or embassies without prior government authorisation. This could imperil journalists.
We call on everyone to stand up for press freedom and the right to information as we work towards shaping a future of human rights for all.