Media groups petition Parliament over George Charamba diatribe
MEDIA groups have petitioned Parliament over the recent threats against journalists by President Emmerson Mangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba (pictured) for reporting on corruption, abuse of diplomatic privileges and illicit financial flows revealed in the Al Jazeera documentary titled The Gold Mafia.
Before the release of the second episode of the documentary which aired last Thursday, Charamba, using his twitter handle “Tinoedza Zvimwe1”, said any journalist who reported on contents of the documentary which implicated Mnangagwa in grand corruption deals risked being arrested.
He further made direct threats to The NewsHawks over its coverage of the documentary in which Mnangagwa’s various allies were filmed explaining how they illegally move money in and out of Zimbabwe as well as clean dirty cash through murky gold trade.
In a petition presented to Parliament by the Zimbabwe Media Alliance, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and the Zimbabwe Editors Forum, the media organisations implored the legislature to open investigations into Charamba’s threats to journalists.
Part of the petition reads: “Against this background, we specifically petition Parliament to: Use its powers and privileges to summon the alleged owner of the Twitter account Tinoedza Zvimwe to categorically pronounce himself on these threats against the media and reaffirm government commitment to promote and observe journalistic freedoms.
“Compel Tinoedza Zvimwe (Charamba) to withdraw his threats and exercise restraint in his language and use professional channels when offended by the media.
“Speak strongly against harassment of journalists and put on record that such attacks on the media are unacceptable.
“Carry out any other investigation into threats against journalists and the media as the legislature deems necessary in the support of media freedoms and broadly human rights in Zimbabwe.”
In one of his tweets, Charamba, wrote: “Friendly advice to all reckless journalists: Al Jazeera is not a court of law before whose claims impart privileges to defamatory utterances. It is merely some weaponised channel.
“If you are reckless enough to repeat what its phony documentary defamatorily says, hoping to plead: “I heard/saw it on Al Jazeera, you will be sorry for yourself. Do not for once think there is no grit to act against reckless, defamatory and politically motivated journalism. Faceless Twitter names egging you on will not be factor when brickbats come. Be warned!”
The media groups told Parliament that such dire threats have a chilling effect on free expression and freedom of the media.
“The threats instill fear and self-censorship among journalists, thereby compromising the citizens’ right to access to information as provided for by our constitution of which the media plays a critical role in the advancement and enjoyment of that right,” the groups said.
“Statements that seek to silence journalists go against the reform trajectory that the government has been undertaking, which has seen the outlawing of criminal defamation and the adoption by cabinet of the principle of co-regulation and acknowledgement of the existence of internal remedies to address grievances against the media.
“We fully acknowledge that freedom of expression is not absolute, and there are professional and legal parameters that the journalists and the media are bound by, repeated threats against the media are retrogressive and unconstitutional.”
Section 119 of the constitution, read together with section 61 says that Parliament must protect the constitution and promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe.
Section 61 (2) of the constitution reads: “Every person is entitled to freedom of the media of communication, which freedom includes protection of confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information.”
The media groups said from the afore-mentioned provisions of the constitution, they were compelled to petition Parliament, which is the institution empowered to hold accountable “all institutions and agencies of the state and government at every level” and protect the constitution, which provides for media freedom, which is under attack.
Last week, Dzivaresekwa legislator Edwin Mushoriwa requested Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa to issue a ministerial statement explaining why the government had threatened journalists reporting on the Al Jazeera documentary.
Mushoriwa raised a matter of national interest in the National Assembly on Thursday demanding to know why journalists exposing corruption by some government officials were being threatened.
He said the warning by Charamba was reminiscent of threats which preceded the bombing of the Daily News in 2001.
“We want the minister to explain whether or not our own government is no longer committed to the freedom of the Press,” said Mushoriwa in Parliament.
Acting speaker of the National Assembly, Tatenda Mavetera asked Mushoriwa to pose the question to Mutsvangwa on her next appearance in the august House.