By Alex Fitoussi

On Thursday December 9th, over two dozen media professionals gathered for a virtual conference on the current state of media freedom in Zimbabwe. Organized by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), the gathering also discussed the newly established Zimbabwe Media Freedom Committee (MFC), and its position in the media support landscape.

Nqaba Matshazi (Deputy Editor at NewsDay) moderated the event, providing commentary on the many discussion topics and introducing the day’s speakers. Following welcoming remarks, Nigel Nyamutumbu (Programmes Manager at MAZ) provided both background on the MFC concept and the future objectives of this newly created body.

The Zimbabwe MFC proposes to emphasize the importance of building extensive networks and alliances while continuing capacity building, information sharing with peers, advocacy benchmarks, connecting with community newspapers and global engagement alike.

Equipped with the data from a recently conducted survey, Chris Mhike (Legal Practitioner at Atherstone & Cook) provided a tangible route for achieving the goals established by Mr. Nyamutumbu. Since the establishment of the 2017 government, which came to power after the impeachment of president of 30 years, Robert Mugabe, there have been promises of reform across the civil sector – including for freedom of the media.

Mr. Mhike acknowledged that the recently passed Data Protection Act is a step in the right direction, but only a first step. Due to the prohibitively high operating costs and a lack of licenses being distributed to broadcast media, some regions have been left in a news media vacuum. However, this is “not due to a lack of journalists,” he continued. There is an abundance of potential journalists attending established training facilities with nowhere to go after completing their courses. According to the discussions, the Media Practitioners Act, if passed into legislation, could help with these issues.

Patience Zirima (Director at Media Monitors) seconded Mr. Mhike’s insistence on greater access to information in Zimbabwe. However, beyond simply accessing information she highlighted a severe lack of diversity in much of the country’s news media and underlined how many of the more remote regions lack any voice at all on the national stage.

Echoing prior comments, Ms. Zirima also discussed how this lack of diversity is amplified in broadcast media; while there is plenty of print media the high startup and operation costs of the broadcast medium keep this part of the platform virtually homogeneous.

The online Q&A portion of the conference invited questions from media professionals in attendance, including how to better protect editorial independence from commercial interest given the current harsh economic environment in Zimbabwe.

Closing remarks were delivered by Abigail Gamanya (National Director of Gender & Media Connect), who commented on the difficulties we have all faced during the current pandemic and the strength required to continue working throughout these trying times. Furthermore, she called for solidarity between all media professionals regardless of which publisher or broadcaster they work for because, in her words, “solidarity is strength.”

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