POLICE are at it again arresting journalists for doing their job.
The editor of NewsDay Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Moses Matenga were detained for six hours on Monday after the paper extensively covered the death of a Harare boy who was hit by a kombi fleeing police.
Parents of Neil Tanatswa Mutyora and eye-witnesses have laid the blame squarely on the police for the boy’s unfortunate death and NewsDay dutifully reported their views.
However, police who are interested parties in this case have come out guns blazing, accusing the paper of publishing falsehoods.
Police deny their involvement in the incident, but witnesses insist they caused the accident.
Madanhire and Matenga are accused of contravening Section 31 (a) (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The section relates to publishing or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the State with the intention of inciting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety.
This is the section that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in a case involving two other journalists, AMH editor-in-chief Vincent Kahiya and former NewsDay editor Constantine Chimakure early this year.
The arrest also coincided with the court appearance of journalists from the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, the publishers of Daily News who are facing criminal defamation charges.
More importantly the arrests come on the eve of the adoption of Zimbabwe’s new Constitution next month. The landmark charter outlaws criminal defamation. It is supposed to have ushered in a new dispensation where the fundamental rights of all Zimbabweans are respected and protected.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo has been clear that criminal defamation has no place in the new dispensation. Citizens, including the police who are aggrieved by content in the media have recourse in civil defamation laws.
The unfortunate history of this country is that the police and other powerful forces have used the archaic criminal defamation law to muzzle journalists hence the reluctance to discard it.
Parliament should be alive to the harassment of journalists by authorities using pieces of legislation that are in conflict with the new supreme law so that alignment of old laws to the Constitution is speeded up.
Police would argue that they are simply applying the law, but that does not preclude them from using common sense.