MwanaHalisi na Kubenea watinga AU
The African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights entered its sixth-day today with reports and deliberations centering on media and freedom of expression in Africa. The Media Institute of Southern Africa – MISA presented a short statement on the situation of media in the region. It is Jaqueline Chikakano, a Zimbabwean lawyer who did the presentation in three minutes. The statement:
MISA Statement to the 46th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. Banjul, Gambia
11-25 November 2009
Presented by Jacqueline Chikakano
Madam Chairperson, Honourable Commissioners, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional media and free expression advocacy organization operating in 11 Southern African countries takes this time to thank the Commissioners for inviting us as well as affording us the time to make this statement. After all these years of coming here, would have been happy to say at this moment, that the media and freedom of expression environment in Southern Africa has improved and that there is tolerance of diverse views and opinions as well as better guarantee of the safety of the media and citizen’s rights to freedom of expression.
The reality on the ground however remains the same and the media and freedom of expression environment in Southern Africa remains bad. Zimbabwe remains a major concern to MISA despite a flicker of hope presented by the Unity government. This however seems to be all unravelling as the promised media reforms remain stalled, with the state media going back to spewing hate messages against perceived ‘enemies of the state’. The private media is openly threatened with arrest by senior government officials and denied permits to operate while the state owned media launches one publication after another. With the coming into force of the unity government, the operating environment for civic society had improved slightly but recently, it has faced severe harassment an example being the arrest of leaders of the NGO mother body in Zimbabwe, on 25 October on allegations of organising an illegal meeting. Similar arrests have been made on at least two occasions in October, on civil society organisations.
As I make this presentation, I have in this room a Tanzanian journalist, Ndimara Tegambwage, who together with his editor Saed Kubenea were attacked with acid and severely beaten in 2008 because of their newspaper’s expose’s on corruption. After this attack, their newspaper, Mwanahalisi, was shut down for allegedly reporting negatively on the head of state President Jakaya Kikwete. Since then the judiciary has ruled that the newspaper should pay nearly 3 million USD in a defamation case involving a senior ruling party politician and executive. This, in a country where the majority live on less than a dollar a day
In Zambia we have witnessed a consistent pattern of harassment of the media, by the state through the use of such laws as the Penal code, as well as by non state actors acting on behalf of political parties and they have been on the warpath against the private media, mainly the Post newspaper. On the other hand, the ruling MMD supporters have been beating up and harassing the employees of the same news paper whilst a criminal case has also been levelled against the Post News Editor, Chansa Kabwela, whose crime was to remind authorities of the suffering of Zambian pregnant women who had to give birth without professional help owing to a health workers strike.
While the elections in Botswana were peaceful, the state broadcaster, Botswana TV and was clearly biased in favour of the ruling party to the extent of having its CEO read ruling party messages on air. The world will judge that the elections were free and fair, but as MISA, we bring to your attention the serious media biases that have the ability to tilt election processes in favour of one party. We notably however commend the media in Mozambique for a job well done in representing all political views and voices in the just ended national plebiscite. We also Congratulate Frelimo and President Armando Guebuza on their victory and hope that outstanding media issues in Mozambique, mainly the proposed Freedom of Information Act can be finalised.
We remain concerned with new laws that are being passed in the Southern Africa region, notably the Media Practitioners Act in Botswana, the proposed statutory media council in Swaziland. We remain concerned over the state of the SABC in South Africa, which remains caught in a political power struggle which seem not to abate any time soon.
We call upon the commissioners to take interests in the coming 2010 elections in Tanzania, especially with regard to the continued harassment of the media. We also call upon commissioners to remain seized with political developments in Zimbabwe and add your voices to the call for positive change for the good of the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.
Tanzania 'njema' inawezekana!