By Justin Mahlahla

 

Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day, a day set aside to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

3 May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.

It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.

It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.

It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, is appealing to all governments to uphold their commitments in protecting and promoting freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are the foundations of all democratic societies.

Particular responsibility remains with the governments of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa to meet the aspirations of their people, notably for freedom of expression, a basic human right already largely reclaimed by the citizens of Egypt and Tunisia.

The Director-General also expressed deep concern over reoccurring attacks on journalists reporting on conflicts and social movements in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

“I welcome positive developments in recent months regarding freedom of expression and the progressive lifting of restrictions on press freedom in Egypt and Tunisia,” the Director-General of UNESCO said.

“But I also urge other governments in the region to step up their efforts to meet the aspirations of their citizens and open the way for the full enjoyment of the basic human right of freedom of expression. The freedom to speak and the freedom to write are essential preconditions for the transition towards democracy and good governance,” Irina Bokova added.

The Director General also raised grave concern about the safety of journalists in the region in view of reports of continued attacks on reporters in Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

She was particularly concerned about reports that journalists covering anti-government protests have been arrested, gone missing, been subjected to intimidation, threats and physical violence.

“Silencing the media or attempting to intimidate them is an unacceptable assault on the right of citizens to be informed,” said the Director General. “I call on all countries in the world to respect the right to free expression, as laid down in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the right to freedom of information.”

Irina Bokova also pledged to maintain and enhance UNESCO’s support in assisting countries wishing to create an enabling environment for professional, free and independent media, notably in drafting constitutional and legislative frameworks mindful of democratic standards and practice.

In Zimbabwe, World Press Freedom Day comes on the backdrop of unjust political decisions being taken on the country’s journalists in relation to the coverage of world events. For instance, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Chief Correspondent, Rueben Barwe, was denied a visa by the Italian Embassy to travel to the Vatican City to cover the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, an event which was attended by the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, President Robert Mugabe.

The Italian Embassy could not disclose the reasons behind the move even though the protocol people in Italy said they wanted to see whether he was on the plane.

The presidential delegation however said the issue would be handled diplomatically.                                                                                                                                                
Sources close to the delegation in Rome said this shows the hypocrisy of western governments who always preach that journalists must do their work unhindered.

The move is viewed as a repeat by western governments to choose those whom they want to refuse entry into Europe and America.

In September last year, President Mugabe had to intervene through United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki Moon on the refusal of a visa to travel to New Work for the general assembly by the same correspondent.

SIX Zimbabwean journalists – three from the state-owned Zimbabwe Newspapers Group – Pikirayi Deketeke, Caesar Zvayi and Munyaradzi Huni as well as Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s Reuben Barwe and Judith Makwanya from Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings and freelancer Musorowegomo Mukosi – have been placed on the European Union sanctions list.
The six, alongside other perceived supporters of ‘‘the Mugabe regime”, will have their assets frozen and will not be allowed into European Union territory.

The move has been described as a blatant attempt at mind control and is clearly aimed at muzzling voices other than those that are seen and heard to be supporting Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

This is because early July 2008, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated that the European Union would not recognise any government in Zimbabwe other than a government led by Tsvangirai (“EU wants Tsvangirai to head Zimbabwe govt,” Reuters, July 1).

Moreover, at the time he was slapped with sanctions, Zvayi no longer worked for the The Herald and I doubt that Huni, like the bulk of those working within Zimbabwe’s state-owned media, can afford to travel to any part of the European Union. It is also highly unlikely that any of them have assets in the European Union.

In placing these six journalists on the sanctions list, the European Union is actually trying to instill fear and create a psychological block on all writers and commentators who have an interest in Zimbabwe and who have an alternative take on what is happening there.

So much for World Press Freedom.

 

***Some sections of this article were written by Ambrose Musiyiwa, a Zimbabwean resident in Leicester, the United Kingdom. His article appeared in The Herald of 2 May 2011.