Zimbabwe Operating Environment
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 media freedom rankings, released in May 2021, saw Zimbabwe sliding in terms of its rankings.
Zimbabwe was ranked at 130 out of 180 countries in 2021 compared to its ranking at 126 in 2020.
However, based on MISA Zimbabwe’s monitoring of the media operating environment during the period under review, there was a marked, if not considerable reduction in the number of violations recorded in 2021 compared to the previous year.
This points to an improved media operating environment during the year under review.
On the positive side, the RSF said access to information had improved and self-censorship had declined, but that journalists were still often attacked or arrested.
While RSF noted that new broadcasting licences had been awarded, it noted the lack of diversity in the granting of the permits.
The clawback provisions in the Cyber and Data Protection Act promulgated at the end of 2021, risk eroding the gains made through the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act and undermine citizens’ right to free expression online and ultimately access to information for informed decisions and choices.
In that regard, the government should be guided by the findings of the courts which struck down the criminal offence of publication of falsehoods to avoid costly constitutional court challenges against such provisions.The other major issue that needs sober consideration is the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill.
In its current status, the Bill poses the greatest risk to Zimbabwe’s democratic credentials.
The government should also seize the opportunity of the proposed Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill to come up with a democratic broadcasting regulatory framework that allows for a free, independent, diverse and sustainable broadcasting industry.
While there were no major challenges as MISA Zimbabwe’s programming was informed and executed in line with the organisation’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, as expected the organisation still experienced inevitable challenges that come with the nature of the work it is involved in.
These challenges are not unique to Zimbabwe alone, but permeate the southern African region as a whole in the wake of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and stifling of online expression under the guise of controlling the pandemic.
The other challenge is that of the future of the media (sustainability), which is under threat in the context of the intricate challenges posed by pandemics, climate change, natural disasters, dwindling revenue and the role of big tech companies vis-à-vis the quest for supporting and defending a resilient media given its critical role in the exercise of the right to free expression and access to information for informed decisions and choices.
The issue of media co-regulation remained on the agenda during the course of 2021 as engagements between policy makers, parliamentarians and media representative organisations continued on the matter.
Delegates to the Media Reforms Stakeholders Indaba convened by MISA Zimbabwe on 30 October 2021 in Harare made the following resolutions pertaining to regulation of the media and the ongoing media reform processes:1.
Regulation of the media)
Government should allow the industry to self-regulate
b) The industry is committed to the agreed compromise position of co-regulation, wherein the industry is the primary regulatory body while the constitutional Zimbabwe Media Commission serves as an appellant body.
c) Government should take into consideration the Draft Zimbabwe Media Practitioners Bill that was developed by the media industry after wide consultations with journalists in all the country’s 10 provinces.
d) That any attempts towards entrenchment of statutory regulation in Zimbabwe will not be accepted by the industry.
MISA Regional 2021 Annual 2021 Report