The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) with this year’s theme: Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law.
On this occasion, May 03, 2018, SAEF notes with dismay the continued deterioration of media freedom in some SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries where several cases of harassment, imprisonment, surveillance, threats and arrests of journalists mainly by political players, have been witnessed.
- In Malawi, there were a few noticeable media violations. The government demonstrated its commitment to promote free press through the enactment of the Access to Information Law in 2017. However, the government continues to prevent parastatals from doing business with private media houses, as a way of forcing them to dance to their tune.
- The recent protests by the Botswana media workers union over the abuse of journalists at the hands of senior government officials and state security agents at the inauguration of the new president is of great concern. There remain threats to charge journalists including Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone with archaic sedition laws with government doing very little to remove such statutes from the Constitution. The Botswana Government insists on pursuing the case.
- In Zimbabwe, this year’s celebrations come at a time when the country is preparing for elections and the media is calling for the repealing of repressive laws such the Access to information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Official Secrets Act (OSA). The laws have been used to arrest and detain journalists over the years. Of one such case, on 29 April 2018, Daily News news-editor Gift Phiri was arrested and briefly detained while covering a Zanu PF primary elections meeting in the Midlands town of Zvishavane.
He was accused of taking pictures at a meeting between Zanu PF officials and polling station agents at a Police Station. He was charged with one count of criminal trespass in terms of Section 132 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and paid an admission of guilt fine of US$20. SAEF is however impressed by the work being done by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) in embracing self-regulation as a best mechanism of promoting media freedom.
- In South Africa, SAEF notes with great concern several cases of assault on journalists in the country. A Network 24 journalist was attacked by the Economic Freedom Fighters Deputy President, Floyd Shivambu in the Parliamentary precinct. Also SAEF condemned the raid on the house of award-winning investigative journalist Jacques Pauw by the terrorist fighting “Crimes against the State” unit of the Hawks. On a positive note South Africa now ranks 28th on the World Press freedom Index.
- In Zambia, the government continues to supress the media using the laws prohibiting defamation of the President, and for fear of being arrested, journalists have resorted to self-censorship. Editors continue to be bullied with laws contained in legislation such as the Penal Code.
- Mozambican journalist Ericino de Salema was recently kidnapped and savagely beaten by two armed men who seized him outside the National Union of journalists (SNJ) and was left for dead. The authorities continue to use restrictive laws to censor and arrest journalists.
- In Namibia, SAEF calls on the Namibia Central Intelligence Services (NCIS) to withdraw its court action against The Patriot newspaper and its editor Mathias Haufiku. It is worrisome that the government continues to use old apartheid draconian laws, such as the 1982 Protection of Information Act to censor and silence the media.
- Swaziland saw the revival of two weekly newspapers and new entrants into the print sector, increasing the number of newspapers to nine and magazines to three. But in as much as they were positive developments, there were also setbacks.
The editor of Independent News published an inflammatory commentary, seen to be stirring up hatred against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. He called for the ‘hanging’ of the LGBTI members on cultural and moral grounds.
The managing editor of Swaziland Shopping published serious allegations of corruption among editors themselves. He alleged that a businessman had captured the editors. He also accused the current crop of journalists of revealing their sources in exchange for bribes. The Swaziland Editors’ Forum (SEF) tried to investigate the damaging allegations published by one of their members. However, their efforts were futile because the member refused to cooperate.
In commemorating this day, SAEF is therefore, calling on southern African governments and political players to respect the work of journalists, whether they are from public or private media, so that they can exercise their duties freely without fear of being arrested or harassed.
Against this background, governments and political players are reminded that freedom of the media is essential not just to protect the rights of journalists but to protect the rights of the people to have the information they need.
It is sad to note that most privately owned media houses in the SADC region are facing viability challenges due to the economic environment, and if the status does not improve, it might prevent millions of people from accessing alternative media platforms to express themselves or be heard.
SAEF will continue to engage SADC, the African Union and other regional and global bodies to find solutions to challenges faced by the media in the region.
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