World Press Freedom Day: A chance for honest reflections

by | May 7, 2021 | Local News | 0 comments

Hosia Mviringi

Thirty years ago, in December 1993, a recommendation was passed at the UNESCO General Conference to adopt May 3 as the day to commemorate World Press Freedom.

The Windhoek Declaration, as it is otherwise known gave effect to the nexus between the freedom to seek, impart, and receive accurate responsible and non-harmful information, and the Public Good part of it has remained relevant yet elusive.

This year’s commemorations were held under the theme, “Information as a Public Good.”
World Press Freedom Day thus remains a reminder to governments around the world, media practitioners and professionals, and the recipient public about the importance of the freedom of the Press and relevant media ethics.

Knowing the vagaries of the media terrain, I write this instalment with a heavy heart, myself being both a media practitioner and a consumer of information.

I have seen how the freedom of the media can be suppressed by both governments and private players.

Yet, I have also experienced a gross abuse of the free media space by practitioners where it is granted.

Governments in some parts of the world uphold restrictive legislation against free access to information by media practitioners.

Some still uphold certain sections of the law that criminalise certain acts by journalists in the course of their work in pursuit of information.

The government of Zimbabwe has been pursuing a progressive legal reform agenda in the media, which saw the recent scrapping of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which criminalised the publishing of certain sensitive information.

These are laudable and progressive steps towards freeing the media space.

Private media houses have been found guilty in many jurisdictions for suppressing the free flow of information, through biased editorial policies that force journalist to go against their conscience by reporting falsehoods and propaganda.

Some private citizens and entities have denied journalist unfettered access to relevant information of public interest.

However, the most disappointing part has been the abuse of media privileges by unscrupulous journalists who have been on many occasions found to be propagating falsehoods.

Misinformation is a cardinal sin in journalism, thus it can be understood why in many jurisdictions it is criminalised.

Organisations such as Cable News Network (CNN), Al Jazeera, British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC) and many other leading news outlets, have on numerous occasions been found on the wrong side of history for propagating false narratives, which on many occasions have resulted in the tragic loss of lives and destruction of infrastructure worldwide.

These organisations, together with their teams of gullible reporters have been found guilty of fanning wars through misinformation and disinformation propaganda campaigns in such countries as Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Iran and many others.

It is regrettable that in these circumstances and more, the Press has been, and continues to be used as instruments of subversion.

Freedom of the Press does not necessarily give a licence to lie and mislead audiences.

It is fundamental that Press Freedom be viewed as the right of the public to receive accurate, factual, and verified information.

Malice and propaganda are not part of the “Public Good” as enunciated by this year’s theme as they go against acceptable professional media ethics.

The Press in recent memory has been an accomplice in the commission of atrocities in numerous war zones where the truth, as a benchmark of ethical reporting, has not been upheld.

In such countries as the USA, the Press has been monopolized to the extent that there is no competition for truthful and accurate news, but rather there is a competition for propaganda, appeasement, mass brainwash and misinformation.

In those countries, the ruling elite has effectively captured the media, in the process obliterating its watchman’s role as the fourth pillar of State. Resultantly, there is no accountability by State actors.

Instead, the media connive and collaborate in the propagation of falsehoods which in many cases have been used to justify unjust wars and aggression against peaceful nations.

This violates the tenets of freedom of the press.
Recently, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair came out of retirement to apologise to the world for misleading the world when his country joined the US to attack Iraq on the false pretext that it harboured an Atomic Weapons ambition.

But it’s disappointing that none of the partner Press actors has come out openly to apologise for misinforming and misleading the world.

The Press, as a responsible vehicle for information dissemination, must be responsible and accountable for actions and consequences thereof.
Freedom of the Press must be balanced about how far the actors are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

In Zimbabwe Press freedom has become a double-edged sword as it has been abused on numerous occasions by irresponsible activist journalists who mistook it for a license to lie with impunity.

Journalists such as Hopewell Chin’ono have on numerous occasions been caught violating these rights by deliberately misinforming the nation on Covid-19 Vaccines.

Reporting on and spreading unverified information is as dangerous as an atomic bomb.
Yet the basic tenets of media freedom discourage journalists from publishing unverified information.
Press freedom should be held sacrosanct.

The Press is fast losing its influential position as a vehicle for information, education and entertainment. These values are being eroded at every moment that a journalist chooses to lie or deliberately publish falsehoods.

As the fourth pillar of the state, the Press must uphold professional ethics and values to build and preserve its reputation.