Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) and Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe) have called on the government to respect role of the media in nation building and promotion of universal bill of rights.

Speaking at the Zimbabwe Media Law Reform Process press briefing this morning, the two organisations said members of the fourth estate have a role to play in the reformation of media laws, and called on the state to also respect its part of the bargaining by not being hostile to the media.

MAZ said it was disheartening that the state have been abusing the law as a tool to criminalise the noble profession of journalism;  “We are calling for the abolition of the Censorship board and decriminalisation of journalism” , said MAZ. And called for media reforms that fully allow media freedoms such as those of freedom of expression and assembly enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

MISA-Zimbabwe law officer, Kuda Hove expressed concern that the state has taken a leading role in violating media freedoms. He cites the recent example where 263Chat newsroom was attacked by the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

The calls follows high in the heels of journalists’ collective action over police brutal and hostility against the media. The journalists registered their displeasure after the police had thrown teargas into the newsroom of an online media house, 263Chat, and harassed reporters doing their job on Thursday last week. The police were trying to evict vendors from the streets of Harare, and when they spotted  journalist from the online publication filming the incident, in line with his constitutional rights, the police pursued the reporter to his office and attacked him and his workmates.

Meanwhile, journalists, mainly from privately-owned media houses and freelancers, yesterday petitioned the ZRP calling for the law enforcement agents not to interference or harass reporters doing their job.

At Harare Central Police Station, the copies of the petition were shredded by some overzealous police officers, in the full glare of the journalists, who then provided another copy of the petition which was finally handed over to senior police officers. The police failed to give the reporters audience and briefly detained them before releasing them with no charges levelled against them.

The petition, highlighted how media practitioners were dismayed with the manner they were being treated by the police whenever they were covering disturbances. According to the petition, a police report was made pointing out the evidence of the attacks ( tear-smoke canisters thrown into the 263chat newsroom) to assist the police in their investigations, and that no arrests have been effected at the time of its submission. The journalists believe they have the constitutional right to cover news including police operations provided they do not infringe or interfere with the police officers’ work.

Part of the petition reads; “We, therefore, urge you to conduct thorough investigations into this shocking incident as a matter of urgency and thus assure the safety and security of journalists undertaking their lawful professional duties as provided for in the Constitution.”

Be that as it may, in Zimbabwe this not the first time in which the state has exhibited hostility towards journalists, in several instances journalists from particularly private media houses and freelancers had been harassed at the hands of state agents.