Press freedom dropping ahead of Zimbabwe vote

With journalists attacked before the historic election a watchdog has urged reporters to "exercise caution".


    I am back in Zimbabwe's capital Harare after a long absence, and am looking forward to reporting.

    The last time Al Jazeera was here, the team was briefly detained. 

    It's going to be an interesting week ahead of general elections planned for July 31, with a hearing due on Wednesday which will decide whether the constitutional court will grant an extension, so that the vote can be pushed back until August 14.

    These elections will be the first held under a constitution.

    My Monday morning started by reading the papers to get up to speed with the main issues of the day. 

    One headline in NewsDay grabbed my attention: "Journos urged to exercise caution". 

    A press freedom watchdog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe (MISA), has urged journalists "to avoid risky assignments and exposing themselves to volatile political gatherings ahead of harmonised elections this year".

    So far this month, at least four reporters have been attacked in the run up to the election.

    "After the advent of the inclusive government, there were a few cases of attacks on journalists, but since the announcement of election dates, the attacks are beginning to increase," said Nyasha Nyakunu from MISA. 

    "We are now worried because of the cases, including the attack on journalists Herbert Moyo of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper and Mashudu Netsianda from the Chronicle newspaper."

    'Media is still vulnerable'

    Moyo was said to have been attacked while reporting on protests by members of Zimbabwe's main opposition party - the MDC - who were demonstrating against the choice of candidate for their constituency.

    Netsianda had been briefly detained.

    "It is the severity of cases that is worrying, like the incident where a journalist in Chinhoyi was severely beaten up," said MISA's Nyakunu. "Let's stay safe. There is no story worth dying for and there is no politician worth dying for."

    Most journalists know the best way to stay out of trouble in Zimbabwe is the same rule which applies everywhere to try and tell all sides of the story. 

    If you interview someone from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC, it is only fair to give someone from President Robert Mugabe's  Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front party (ZANU-PF) the right to reply.

    Of course, it is not always as simple as that. Sometimes politicians do not want to talk to you, or might be too busy to see you that day.

    But where we can, we try, and remembering to always keep a valid press card handy is also necessary.

    Ultimately, we are still vulnerable, especially when reporting on sensitive issues.

    The next few weeks leading up to elections could be tense, for all Zimbabweans.

    After the drama and chaos of the disputed 2008 election, most people in the country know the basic rule to surviving an election here – keep your head down.



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