20 journalists from four Zimbabwean media outlets gathered in Harare for training on physical security, digital security and psychosocial well-being, including discussions on key concerns before reporting on the country’s upcoming electoral process.
For many, this was their first opportunity to take part in a comprehensive security training course, with a range of new skills gained and plenty to take back to their newsrooms.
“First aid is not just for health workers because I can now do it at home and even in my community,” said the Star FM reporter. “My main point is the importance of always assessing your surroundings, especially if you’re in a new environment. This is something we tend to overlook as journalists. I’ll be sure to share with my bosses and colleagues, especially now that we’re heading into the election.”
Solidarity is essential
Solidarity among professionals on issues related to the safety and protection of journalists is key to raising standards across the industry. Given the highly competitive nature of the Zimbabwean media landscape, there are few opportunities for journalists from competing organizations to unite, and even fewer topics on which they are likely to agree.
However, by the end of the intensive training week, the value of looking out for each other in a potentially dangerous reporting environment had clearly been reinforced, while the idea of supporting colleagues, regardless of affiliation, had taken root.
Hands-on exercises with basic first aid training were in high demand, as were sessions exploring how to create and implement sound policies in newsrooms to help manage crisis situations. Participants also received sessions on mental health and well-being, which for many journalists was missing from the safety discussion.
“The psychological aspect was key because most journalists often can’t handle that,” said the Sunday Mail reporter. “Just last year we lost a colleague to suicide after he had been struggling with trauma and depression for some time.”
As part of WAN-IFRA’s long-term partnership with Zimbabwean partners, especially leaders in its field Women in the News In the programme, further training is envisaged in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, which will deal with election reporting techniques and professional practice. The focus on security will also continue as ongoing support will be available to partner editors throughout 2023.
“The course was long overdue. I now understand security preparedness and the necessary steps to take when faced with a situation,” said a senior manager at Alpha Media Holdings. “I’ve also been made aware of the need to provide adequate resources to my team when they venture into potential conflict zones.”
Essential dialogue on pressing issues
The week of safety-focused events concluded with a dialogue event, a series convened by the organization Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) aimed to create an enabling environment for reporting on the upcoming elections, bringing together journalists, the Electoral Commission of Zimbabwe, the National Police Service and government representatives. It was an invaluable opportunity for media practitioners to raise concerns and receive responses from those responsible for Zimbabwe’s electoral process.
“It is important that the media engages with the various sectors that make up the elections,” said Nigel Nyamutumbu, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Media Alliance. “For example, the Electoral Commission of Zimbabwe, which is mandated to administer and manage elections in this country… are here to share and outline their plan for the 2023 elections.”
MAZ has taken over the leadership of WAN-IFRA’s Media Freedom Committee in Zimbabwe, adding it to their already impressive list of advocacy and freedom of expression tools to promote critical discussions on press freedom at the highest levels. WAN-IFRA is committed to continuing its engagement with MAZ and its partners to help facilitate their ongoing work and provide support wherever needed to strengthen the environment for good journalism.
“As a government, we fully support the capacity of journalists and other stakeholders in the election reporting process,” said Jonathan Gandari, Director General of the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services. “The content of these discussions around the safety of media practitioners is extremely important to us. We have an act [the Media Practitioners Act] in which we fix how we will protect journalistic practice.
The current legislation was indeed a key point of discussion during the event, where a number of journalists addressed concerns regarding the implementation of safeguards and access to information. At the end of the dialogue session, media and stakeholders agreed on seven recommendations that will guide further discussions to continue building consensus on the way forward.
That there is a need to expand dialogue and engagement with political parties, particularly to promote transparency, access to information and protection of journalists covering political gatherings;
It is necessary to raise awareness about the accountability mechanisms available in the law and in the Code of Conduct for Journalists and Media Workers;
Policy and legal frameworks governing elections need to be strengthened to ensure gender inclusiveness and an enhanced role for social media;
Utilize various tools and knowledge materials including but not limited to manuals produced by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and other media stakeholders;
Maintain engagement and partnership between media stakeholders and the police;
Dialogue with the election management body regarding the possible review of accreditation costs for journalists covering the elections.
Facilitate the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act to ensure access to information within public bodies.
The Zimbabwe Media Alliance is an alliance of media advocacy organizations including the Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project, the Media Institute of South Africa (Zimbabwe Section), the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (ZINEF), Gender and Media Link. (GMC), Media Centre, Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS), Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) and African Community Publishing Development Foundation (ACPDT).
Funded by a generous $1 million grant from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, WAN-IFRA’s African Media Empowerment program prioritizes the safety of journalists, protecting key media freedom issues, and supporting business and editorial capacity for media companies in nine African countries.
Under WAN-IFRA’s SaferMedia approach, partners are provided with dedicated resources and expert advisory services to address the multiple perspectives of physical security, health and mental wellbeing, digital security and infrastructure, media policies and company-wide procedures from an organizational perspective. .
Learn more here.