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Police a threat to press freedom

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ZIMBABWEAN journalists yesterday joined the rest of the world in celebrating Press Freedom Day amid a cynical reminder by police that we are yet to reach the Promised Land.

Police in Harare disrupted a march by journalists under the pretext that they had not sought clearance.

An event organised by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radios (Zacras), also scheduled for Harare, was cancelled at the last minute after police claimed they had more pressing national issues to attend to.

Zacras had initially been cleared by the police before the surprise U-turn by the cops.

The disruptive behaviour by the police came against the backdrop of increasing cases of press freedom violations by the law enforcement agents. The return of Jonathan Moyo as Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister last year had ushered in new hope of change of fortunes in the media sector.

Moyo promised to change the way things were being done, which he admitted had natured polarisation and a generally unhealthy relationship between the government and the media.

He toured privately-owned media houses and went on to set up a body that is currently consulting Zimbabweans on what needs to be done to improve the media sector.

Moyo has also spoken vigorously against the continued use of archaic criminal defamation laws by the powerful in society to hinder journalists from doing their job.

However, this is where the positives end.

Police appear bent on doing exactly the opposite of what Moyo is trying to achieve by routinely arresting journalists on criminal defamation charges that are not likely to pass the scrutiny of the courts.

Already journalists and editors of some of the country’s leading newspaper titles – NewsDay and Daily News – have been arrested this year.

Moyo’s protests have fallen on deaf ears with police seemingly not ready to reform.

The unfortunate disruption of Press Freedom Day activities and the arrests of journalists point to a police force that is in urgent need of reorientation.

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