Community Development

Protection of journalists topical at regional workshop

By Nhau Mangirazi

The police and the judiciary are key players in promoting the safety of journalists, a top Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Governing Council member, Father Barnabas Simatende has said.

He said these key players ensure a conducive working environment for journalists.

He revealed this while speaking in Victoria Falls at a workshop to mark the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and urged far-reaching reforms towards the responsive protection of journalists while at work.

”In addition, allow me to express on behalf of the convening partners, our profound appreciation to you and all the media stakeholders for the contribution you make to the struggles of promoting safe spaces for journalists while they do their work.

“I’m honored to welcome you to this critical reflective conference by the peoples of Africa and the broader global community on the mechanisms to keep journalists safe while they do their work. This is a crucial day on our calendar as MISA, but more so as we commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the UN Action Plan on the Safety and Security of Journalists, as it is set out for stakeholders, in their diversity, to introspect and meaningfully contribute to the mechanisms that ought to establish safety nets for the press and by extension the governance of expression, media, privacy, and access to information globally.”

The belated commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the UN Action Plan on Safety and Security of Journalists came at a time when an escalation of attacks against media workers across the continent has been witnessed.

In Southern Africa, in 2020, Mozambican journalist Ibrahimo Mbaruco disappeared, and to date, no one has been held accountable for his disappearance. Tanzanian journalist, Azuro Gwanda, has now been presumed dead. He went missing in 2017.

In Lesotho, journalist Lloyd Mutungamiri was seriously injured when suspected military hitmen shot him and he was transferred to South Africa for medical attention in 2016. Further, in 2020, journalist Ntsoaki Motaung, was shot by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), during a youth protest dubbed #BachaShutDown.

In Eswatini, two journalists, Andile Langwenya, and Wonderboy Dlamini, were hospitalized after they were allegedly shot at by security services during protests in 2021 while in Zimbabwe, only a few months ago, four journalists were heavily assaulted while on their way to cover an opposition rally in Gokwe.

One of the journalists, Toneo Rutsito, who was part of the gathering lost four teeth as a result of the attacks. Last week (Nov 4th) in Zambia, a journalist – Lovemore Phiri was attacked by suspected United Party for National Development cadres, while he was anchoring a live phone-in radio program, which cadres felt was against the current government.

Father Simatende noted that media workers’ job is to shine a light in dark areas and hold people to account.

“Such attacks on journalists – which often go unpunished – are not only a risk to journalists but also pose a risk to the democracies that we are trying so hard to build. As the Washington Post’s motto aptly captures it, “Democracy dies in darkness”.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Plan of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. This day serves as a reminder of the commitments that governments across the world have made to protect the safety and security of journalists.

“As a way forward, we implore our various governments to take the UNPA and localize it into their national legal frameworks. This way, the UNPA does not become an abstract concept, but a living document that future generations will reference as it will guide strategic pathways towards a lasting safety and security regime for journalists in the line of duty.

“Governments ought to go beyond lip service in committing to protecting journalists, but instead should come up with punitive measures for those that perpetrate attacks on media workers. We hope that the judiciary, the police, and the broader security community in our respective countries will take up these courses with the ultimate goal of holding to account the perpetrators of crimes against journalists.”

He alluded to the four Ps on the safety of journalists – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnerships. This illustrates that stakeholders including civil society, the police and judiciary, and governments have a role to play in protecting journalists.

The government of Zimbabwe, in collaboration with UNESCO, made the event possible through financial and technical expertise support.

Other guests came from all over Africa and from Europe and discussed collaborative steps towards lasting safety and security for journalists.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende