A new and more promising era for Zimbabwean journalists is brewing since the departure of former President, Robert Mugabe in November last year.
Mugabe’s departure has seen Zimbabwe jump two places up (from 128 to 126th) in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The report cites hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism as posing a threat to democracies.
Under Mugabe, local journalists operated in a repressive environment that resulted in countless arrests of media practitioners deemed critical of government.
“The promises made after the installation of the new leader need to be translated quickly into concrete measures that finally allow the freedom to inform,” reads part of the report.
“There is a wide range of situations within the country, and journalists are often the victims of intimidation, physical violence, and arrest,” reads the report.
The report finds that “more and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.”
In a disturbing trend, journalists are encountering growing difficulties when covering subjects with national security ramifications as AIPPA is still in place and deterring journalists from sourcing for critical information.
“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.”
Across Africa, the report states, Internet cuts or restrictions on access to online social networks are now widely used in Africa as censorship tools to gag dissent and prevent coverage of unrest within a sector of the population.
The prospect of finally seeing the birth of free and independent journalism in Angola (up four places at 121st) is more uncertain. Joao Lourenço’s installation as president after 38 years of rule by the Dos Santos clan has not yet lead to any significant improvement in media freedom.
In the Asia-Pacific region, still ranked fourth in the Index, South Korea jumped 20 places to 43rd, the Index’s second biggest rise, after Moon Jae-In’s election as president turned the page on a bad decade for press freedom.
North Asia’s democracies are struggling to defend their models against an all-powerful China that shamelessly exports its methods for silencing all criticism. Cambodia (142nd) seems dangerously inclined to take the same path as China after closing dozens of independent media outlets and plunging ten places, one of the biggest falls in the region