In the Report: Introduction Media Environment Print Media Broadcasting Telecommunications Media Violations Statistics: 2005
Introduction - 2005 socio-political environment
As the year 2005 drew to a close, the government of Zimbabwe, despite its pariah status arising from its dented human rights record, demonstrated its increasing paranoia, intolerance, unmitigated disdain and hatred for opposing views by seizing the passport of Zimbabwean publisher Trevor Ncube, arresting Voice of the People Communications Trust (VOP) staff and seizing equipment from the same organisation.
Immigration officials in Bulawayo seized Ncube’s passport on 8 December 2005 upon his arrival from South Africa where he is also the publisher of the weekly Mail and Guardian.
No reasons were advanced for the unlawful action other than that Ncube who is the chairman of Zimind, publishers of the Zimbabwe Independent and Zimbabwe Standard weeklies, was on a list of Zimbabwean citizens whose passports were to be withdrawn.
Under the draconian Constitutional Amendment (No 17) Act, the government is empowered to seize the passports of citizens who undermine “national interests” during their travels abroad.
Ncube’s passport was later released after the Attorney General’s Office conceded that the seizure was unlawful following an urgent application filed with the High Court in which the publisher argued that the action infringed on his basic freedoms and rights.
Far from being embarrassed by the Ncube-fiasco, which drew international criticism and condemnation, barely a week later, the government descended on the offices of the VOP Radio station.
The police raided the VOP offices in Harare on 15 December during which they arrested three VOP workers Nyasha Bosha, Maria Nyanyiwa and Kundai Mugwanda and confiscated equipment, computers and administration files.
The three journalists were detained for four nights at Harare Central Police station before being released without being charged. During the raid which subsequently led to the arrest of VOP director, John Masuku, the police cordoned off the office premises, swept and combed the building with metal detectors, purportedly searching for broadcasting transmitters.
The VOP offices were bombed on 29 August 2002 during which property worth millions was destroyed. These measures are the very antithesis of a government that is aiming at consolidating democracy and build a capable state, which will foster increased access to information and socio-economic and political opportunities.
Of significance is the fact that these brazen actions against basic human freedoms and rights came to the fore in a year during which Zimbabwe held its parliamentary elections.
An election year generates a lot of excitement and expectations on the socio-economic and political front for any country as it provides opportunities for reinvigoration and renewal of leadership and macro-economic policies that will chart and define a given nation’s future.
Zimbabwe, which is experiencing severe economic and political problems since 1998, characterised by hyper-inflation and dwindling disposable incomes, held its sixth parliamentary elections in March 2005.
The March 2005 elections, however, failed to bring about the desired renewal and expectations as the post-election period witnessed the ruling Zanu PF failing to generate meaningful policies and ideas to arrest the country’s economic decline.
As of December 2005, an average Zimbabwean family now needs $13 (US $ 163) million dollars per month for basics, up from about $1,5 million the previous year with civil servants (teachers and nurses) taking home as little as $3 million (US $38) a month.
The foreign currency shortages persist with motorists and industry going for months on end without receiving a single drop of fuel, necessary for industry and commerce. Unemployment remained firmly entrenched at more than 80 percent.
The leadership appeared lost for ideas on resuscitating the country’s ailing agro-based economy amid reports of fresh farm invasions reminiscent of the violent occupations of commercial properties, which began in 2000. Inflation, which had dropped from 600 percent to below 200 in 2004, was now at 502 percent in December 2005 and was set to increase in 2006.
The launching of the controversial Operation Murambatsvina or Operation Restore Order in May 2005, dented any hopes of a government that is determined to correct its human rights record. Tens of thousands were made homeless after the government destroyed their makeshift shelters and businesses effectively killing the country’s burgeoning informal sector. The operation resulted in the production of a damning report by the United Nations.
The UN Special Envoy Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, in her scathing report, said the operation was carried out in an “indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering, and in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks”.
Undaunted by the UN report slamming the country’s human rights deficit and far from entrenching democratic practices, the Zanu-PF dominated parliament went ahead and passed the controversial Constitutional Amendment No 17 Bill.
Passed on 30 August 2005, the Bill reintroduced the Senate and seeks to restrict the travel of individuals deemed to be acting against the economic interests of the country or campaigning for sanctions abroad.
Among other contentious clauses, the Constitutional Amendment Act, strips the right to the courts by aggrieved parties in cases where their land has been acquired by the State. The only appeal allowed is for compensation for the improvements on land. This violates Zimbabwe’s international obligations, particularly Article 7 (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which states: “Every individual shall have the right to have his case heard”.
This right includes “the right to appeal to competent authority organs against acts violating his fundamental rights as recommended and guaranteed by conventions, laws, regulations and customs in force”.
While the government blames its economic misfortunes on recurrent droughts and international sanctions, it is these wanton violations of basic freedoms and rights, which have earned the country its pariah status. The World Economic Forum in its published assessment of the state of Zimbabwe’s competitiveness, ranked the country as the least competitive of the 117 economies studied.
As has become common, the police descended on demonstrators agitating for a new constitution and arrested the leaders of the National Constitutional Assembly.
Protests against the high cost of living were extinguished in similar fashion resulting in the arrest of leaders of the umbrella Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
The Senate project is largely viewed as a ploy to appease disgruntled members of the ruling Zanu PF party. Political analysts say the Senate project smacks of increasing paranoia and obsession with retention of power meant to curb divisions and dissent within the ruling Zanu PF’s rank and file and avert a dogfight for the highest office ahead of President Mugabe’s planned exit in 2008.
Little wonder, Zimbabweans expressed their misgivings with this state of affairs by largely ignoring calls for them to turn out in their droves for the senatorial elections held on 26 November 2005.
State media and independent observers reported widespread low voter turnout countrywide. Opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had called for a boycott of the elections saying it would serve only to increase Mugabe’s power to doll out jobs and perks in the ailing economy. The new house has no veto powers over legislation passed by the ruling party-dominated Lower House.
The lowest voter turnout, since independence in 1980 was recorded during the senatorial elections with a percentage poll of less than 30 percent, clearly implying a snub by Zimbabweans against the status quo. This protest was largely attributed to the questionable relevance of the Senate, dwindling interest in the integrity of the ballot and the current economic hardships, among others.
Zimbabwe is far from conforming with its constitutional, regional and international obligations as mandated under the various charters and conventions it has signed, ratified and acceded to in order to foster and secure an environment that respects freedom of expression as a fundamental human right1. This intransigence, which continues to impact negatively on media freedom, is amply demonstrated through the enactment and amendments to legislations that have a direct bearing on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
Not contend with the wide and varied criticism against its restrictive media laws in the wake of the closure of four independent publications, harsh legislation designed to protect the executive from any form of criticism continues to find its way into the country’s statutes.
The media both private and government-owned, however, cannot escape blame for failing to put issues pertaining to human rights on the national agenda especially where it pertains to social, economic, political and cultural rights. For instance, the media continues to pay scant regard on the imperative need to respect and highlight the rights of women in many media narratives.
This omission on the part of the media is most glaring when viewed against the backdrop of the Declaration on Gender and Development signed by SADC member states, including Zimbabwe, on 8 September 1997.
Despite the increasing number of women entering politics and marking their mark in business and hitherto male-dominated professions, the coverage of women or gender issues is still viewed from a male perspective.
The Declaration explicitly pledges to eradicate all forms of gender inequalities in the region. Sadly, the media, which is a critical tool in facilitating this process, does not seem to be paying critical attention on the need to reflect the giant strides that women have made in closing the gender disparities between women and men and indeed the challenges that are still in our societies for the advancement of women. There is, therefore, need for the formulation of commensurate gender media policies in order to give meaning and effect to the Declaration on Gender and Development and SADC quota system on 30 percent representation in the region’s parliaments.
While cases pertaining to the harassment, arrests, vilification and assault of journalists working for the private media have declined compared to the period leading to the 2000 and 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections, respectively, the clamped legislative media environment is still far from the ideal. The decline in cases of media freedom violations is largely due to the absence of the critically informative Daily News and other newspapers such as The Tribune2.
The enactment of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the tabling of the General Laws Amendment Act which seek to tighten sections of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), speaks volumes of a government that is still to recover from the scare of the tightly contested elections in early 2000.
This comes on the backdrop of the enactment of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) in 2001, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) on 15 March 2002 and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) on 10 January of the same year.
These laws were put in place after the ruling Zanu PF’s near defeat in the 2000 parliamentary elections which saw the government heating up its repressive engines to muzzle dissenting voices, control access to information and the electoral process.
Still reeling from the scare of the 2000 parliamentary elections, the government acted to tighten its screws on the media. This triggered an unprecedented wave of violence against journalists working for the private media and supporters of the opposition ahead of the 2002 presidential elections.
The intervening period saw a sharp increase in attacks against the independent media. The Daily News’ premises were bombed on 22 April 2000 followed by that of its printing press on 28 January 2001.
Several foreign correspondents and journalists were either deported or barred from entering Zimbabwe. Pro-ruling Zanu PF militias seized numerous copies of independent newspapers; journalists and readers of the independent media were attacked, assaulted and detained, while private newspapers were banned from circulating in so-called Zanu PF strongholds.
These developments were not restricted to the print media alone. Scores of experienced journalists and broadcasters were retrenched at the then Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, now Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) and replaced by juniors handpicked by then Minister of Information and Publicity, Professor Jonathan Moyo.
The retrenched journalists, broadcasters and other workers are still to receive their retrenchment packages some three years after they were made redundant3. This has seen the bulk of the retrenched workers virtually living from hand to mouth.
Some of them have relocated to South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States.
This has seen the country’s sole public broadcaster being manned by inexperienced personnel as evidenced by the poor quality of news and programme content. As for those still in ZBH’s employ, they at times have to make-do with late salaries.
That alone speaks volumes on the trials and tribulations of working for both the private and government-controlled media in Zimbabwe. Security of tenure is never guaranteed as one can wake up one morning behind bars let alone without a job as independent newspapers are always at risk of closure.
Journalists working for the independent press have been variously referred to as agents of imperialism, sell-outs, enemies of the State and lapdogs of the former colonial master, Britain, bent on derailing the land reform programme. These verbal attacks have provided the context of the levels of intolerance to media freedom and freedom of expression on the part of the government.
Only as recently as 3 November 2005, the government-run Herald, published an article laced with vitriol and hate language against veteran broadcasters John Matinde and Brenda Moyo, journalists Sandra Nyaira, Tichaona Sibanda and Blessing Zulu. These exiled media practitioners were referred to as “clowns and sellouts” determined to advance the agenda of Western imperialist propaganda.
For instance, a meeting organised by MISA-Zimbabwe under its Community Radio Initiatives in Dete, Matabeleland North was aborted after Thembinkosi Sibanda, a Zanu PF councilor said the organisers did not have police clearance in terms of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). The public meeting attended by close to 1000 people, had been scheduled for 7 October 2005 at Dete Hall to brief residents on the Community Radio Initiatives and the concept of community radio stations.
It is against this background of intolerance that has seen at least 90 Zimbabwean journalists, including several of the nation’s prominent journalists exiled in South Africa, Namibia, United Kingdom and United States.
Unemployment, political violence and human rights abuses have fuelled a steady stream of emigration from Zimbabwe since the late 1990s bringing to an estimated four million Zimbabweans now living in the Diaspora, according to a study released in 2005 by the International Organisation for Migration4.
Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act
With the signing into law of the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Bill on 2 June 2005, it will be increasingly difficult for the few journalists who are still employed to perform their newsgathering tasks without fear or favour.
Zimbabwean journalists now risk spending 20 years in jail following the signing of the Bill into law as the new Act introduces harsher penalties than those provided for under POSA and AIPPA. A journalist convicted of contravening Section 31 (a) of the Act will be jailed for a period not exceeding 20 years or to a fine of up to Z$2,5 million or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Under Section 15 of POSA, which is similar to Section 31 of the Codification Act, one is liable to a five-year jail term or alternatively a fine of $100 000 or both imprisonment and fine. Section 31 (a) of the Act which is almost a regurgitation of Section 15 of POSA, makes it an offence for anyone inside or outside Zimbabwe to publish or communicate to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that there is real risk or possibility of any of the following:
Inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety
(ii) Adversely affecting the defence or economic interests of Zimbabwe
Undermining the public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe.
Interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service.
An offence will still have been committed even if the publication or communication does not result in any of the envisaged scenarios.
Section 31 (b) of the Act is an extraction from Section 80 of AIPPA, which deals with issues linked, to the publication or communication of falsehoods.
Under AIPPA, once convicted, one is liable to two years imprisonment or a Z$400 000 fine. In terms of the Codification Act, once convicted under Section 31 (b), one is now liable to a 20-year jail term or Z$2,5 million fine5.
Section 33 of the Codification Act is similar in all respects to Section 16 of POSA. It deals with “undermining the authority of or insulting the President”.
It prohibits the making, publicly and intentionally, of any false statement (including an act or gesture) about or concerning the President or Acting President if the person knows or realises that there is a risk or possibility of endangering feelings of hostility towards or causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of him/her, whether in his official or personal capacity.
Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), states that any restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democracy.
Such restrictions should be proportionate and the harm to freedom of expression should not outweigh the benefits of the restrictions. In Zimbabwe, however, it is also an offence to make an abusive, indecent, obscene or false statement about the President, also in his official or personal capacity.
POSA imposes a fine of Z$ 20 000 or a one year jail term or to both such fine and imprisonment. The Codification Act raises the fine to Z$200 000 while the prison term remains the same.
Ironically confusing as it might appear, the governing party’s explicit intentions to narrow the democratic space were brought to the fore only in September 2005 following the tabling of the General Laws Amendment Bill.