Zimbabwe’s Authoritarian Regime Intensifies Assault on Local Media
The media in Zimbabwe has come under renewed attack from the government with reports of some journalists being assaulted by security forces while others are victimized for hosting shows on the need to end torture and impunity in the country.
The latest case which has caused an uproar within the fraternity involves the station manager for Capitalk FM Radio, Nyaradzo Hazangwi who has been suspended on allegations of approving an ‘unbalanced’ radio programme. The radio show is owned by Zimpapers, a state-controlled mass media outlet.
Ms. Hazangwi's 'crime,' authorities say, was that she approved a radio programme to discuss the state of affairs in respect of torture in the country as part of commemorations of the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, a day marked worldwide on June 26 annually. The said programme was sponsored by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum).
In a joint statement, The Forum, and the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) said the assault on media freedoms was concerning. Among the strategic objectives of the commemorations, The Forum intended to utilize the radio programme to zero in on the prevalent cases of torture in Zimbabwe. The program was however disrupted in unclear circumstances.
"Being a sponsored programme, we anticipated an immediate explanation from the station on the reasons for the termination of broadcasting services midway through the programme, but this did not happen," The Forum said.
One of the panelists on the programme, Ms. Jestina Mukoko who is also the current Chairperson of The Forum, is a former victim of abduction and torture.
"Nothing unlawful or defamatory was said against anyone during the show," The Forum.
MAZ and The Forum both said they viewed the action by the authorities as an attack on media freedoms and editorial independence, in violation of section 61 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution.
"The worrisome trend of the purging of journalists and media practitioners has become a threat to the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media," MAZ and The Forum wrote.
The media rights defenders noted similar events in 2018 which led to the purging of the then manager of the same station, over a programme whose content the controllers of the station were reportedly uncomfortable with.
"The Forum and MAZ believe that the suspension of Ms. Hazangwi is an ill-conceived tool to instill fear among media practitioners serving at state-controlled media organizations to the detriment of objective journalism," the organizations noted.
However, Zimpapers CEO Mr. Pikirayi Deketeke has said the suspension was on the basis that the programme lacked balance and that “allegations were being made without the other side being given an opportunity to defend themselves”.
This case comes barely a week after soldiers assaulted online journalists Munashe Chokodza and Leopold Munhende who were returning home from work. The two were thrashed with military whips at Warren Park shopping centre in Harare.
Narrating their ordeal, the journalists said they were stopped by the soldiers at the shopping centre and were accused of not observing the lockdown regulations.
The two produced their press cards and explained that they were returning from work, as they were part of the essential service workers. But shockingly the soldiers apparently remarked, “You journalists think you are special in this country”, before ordering them to roll on the ground and assaulting them. They both sustained injuries in the process.
Following the assault, the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said journalists would not continue to be punching bags for daring to perform their professional duties.
"These acts of barbarism are unacceptable in a country that claims to be a democracy, worse off 40 years after independence.," Misa Zimbabwe wrote in a statement.