Zimbabwe: Media background

Updated February 2002

On 13 May 1991, the Republic of Zimbabwe ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted and opened for signature by General Assembly Resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 (ACE Project 2002, SADC 2001). Fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of opinion and expression, are enshrined in Article 20 of the Zimbabwe Constitution (Constitution 1980, Article 20). However, at odds with Article 19 of the Covenant, the present environment is not conducive towards protection of the right to freedom of expression (International Covenant 1966, Articles 19-21).

According to the Press Freedom Survey produced by the Washington-based Freedom House the degree of political control, economic influences over the content of the news items, and actual violations against the media - including murder, physical attack, harassment, censorship and legal action against journalists - play a significant part in shaping the environment in which the media operate.

Laws that undercut such freedoms, such as the Entertainment Control Act, the Law and Order Maintenance Act and the Official Secrets Act are still on Zimbabwe's statute books, a heritage of the colonial period (Chavunduka 2000). Besides, according to the Freedom Survey, a draft constitution unveiled in December 1999 already then envisaged the establishment of a Statutory Media Commission with powers to discipline journalists in breach of any law or code of conduct applicable to them (Freedom House 2000a & 2000b).

In preparation for the general elections, announced to be on 9-10 March 2002, the Government of Zimbabwe pushed two pieces of legislation through Parliament, which further restrict fundamental rights and freedoms of opinion, expression and information. In the lead up to the presidential elections, the Public Order and Security Bill and Freedom of Information and Right to Privacy Bill drastically curtail freedom of expression with a system of licenses and a code of conduct that attracted severe criticism from members of the Zimbabwean opposition, local media and international community.

On 4 February 2002, Abid Hussain (the UN Special Rapporteur), consequently expressed deep concern about the passing of the Access to Information and Privacy Bill. In a communication to the Government of Zimbabwe on 1 February 2002, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights referred to the provisions of the Bill saying that "the provisions infringe on the right to freedom of opinion and expression as guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Zimbabwe is a Party". In the same communication, the Special Rapporteur stressed that "the provisions of this Bill will give rise to excessive government control over the media" and appealed to the Government to reconsider his request issued on 25 September 2001 to undertake an official mission to Zimbabwe (UNHCHR 2002).

The culture of accountability, independence and freedom has also severely undermined in the context of Zimbabwean elections. Statistical evidence gathered by the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe confirms that the government-controlled Zimbabwean media has been shamelessly partisan, producing unbalanced news items that give prominent exposure to the incumbent government's views. An independent media exists but has become a casualty of ever growing political confrontation between the incumbent government party ZANU PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The Minister of State for Information and Publicity Jonathan Moyo has, for instance, stepped up several verbal attacks against the independent media, which, in his judgment, behave unethically (Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe 2002). The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe produced unsupported accusations at independent media representatives, which he labeled 'unpatriotic traitors and terrorists'. ZANU PF officials issued a series of statements promising increased discipline on journalists.

Meanwhile, independent media journalists have faced real threats, including violent assaults, arrests, torture, intimidation, bombings at printing press premises and editorial offices, and harassment of street vendors promoted with the purpose of limiting the circulation of independent newspapers and intimidating readers, The Daily News was bombed twice on 28 January 2001 and April 2000. Police investigations into the bombings proved inconclusive. In the month of January 2002 alone violence claimed 16 victims, 36 cases of abduction were reported, as were 18 disappearances and 142 cases of torture. On February 12, 2002 the independent Daily News, came under attack again as its premises were petrol-bombed (BBC World News 2002).

References

ACE PROJECT 2002, Media and elections index.

BBC WORLD NEWS 2002, "Zimbabwe political violence increases: President Mugabe's ZANU PF party is criticised", 24 January.

CHAVUNDUKA, MG 2000, "Imprisonment and torture of journalists in Zimbabwe" IN Nieman Reports, 54(3), Fall.

CONSTITUTION OF ZIMBABWE 1980, incorporates all amendments until October 2007, [www] http://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/africa/ZW/zimbabwe-constitution-of- zimbabwe-2008-1 [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).

FREEDOM HOUSE 2000a, Press Freedom Survey 2000.

FREEDOM HOUSE 2000b, Censor dot gov: The Internet and press freedom 2000.

INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS 1966.

MEDIA MONITORING PROJECT ZIMBABWE 2002, "Media Update 2002/01", January, 7-13.

SADC 2001, "Media and The SADC Electoral Support Network" IN Elections Conference Report: Ten years of multiparty democracy: The challenges for media and civil society.

UNHCHR 2002, "UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression extremely concerned over passing of Media Law in Zimbabwe", 4 February.