BY KENNETH MATIMAIRE
Journalists have appealed to the government to decentralise the provision of Covid-19 statistics to improve access to information and the media coverage of the pandemic in Zimbabwe.
They made the appeal during countrywide consultations spearheaded by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Editors Forum and Voluntary Council of Zimbabwe.
The organisations were assessing the operating environment for journalists in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic through a partnership with Unesco and support from the European Union.
Nigel Nyamutumbu, the MAZ coordinator, said journalists raised concern about the Health and Child Care ministry’s daily Covid-19 statistics that were only issued from Harare.
“Three main issues emerged and the first one was the need to decentralise information,” Nyamutumbu said.
“The Covid-19 story has largely been made national, which has been inhibiting journalists from within the provinces from accessing Covid-19 statistics on time.
“It has (also) been inhibiting them from accessing even sources that could comment authoritatively on the Covid-19 story as most from within provinces were directing inquiries to the national office, even on stories that would relate to a particular province.”
During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, provinces and cities issued daily updates on infections, deaths and hotspots.
Health officials were also forthcoming in share their views about the pandemic, before government moved in to centralise information dissemination, which has created serious bureaucratic challenges for journalists.
Nyamutumbu said journalists from various provinces urged government to address the bottlenecks.
“There is also the need for health experts to be more forthcoming as far as packaging the Covid-19 story is concerned,” he said.
“There has been a lot of officialdom where predominately, the government officials have been taking centre stage in distilling Covid-19 information at the expense of medical experts from within the country or provinces, who could be doing research on the pandemic or that have first-hand experience.”
Nyamutumbu said journalists were also concerned about their safety with the issue of lack of adequate personal protective equipment being central.
They also called for an end to harassment, detentions, and arrests by security services.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe reported 52 violations against media workers, including journalists, vendors and media interns in 2020.
The journalists implored government to ensure that security forces respect media practitioners on duty.
“Many were victims of the brutality of security officers and it is imperative that action is taken against perpetrators to ensure that the media is duly protected to carry out its mandated duties,” said Mutare based freelance journalist, Sydney Saize.
Saize was detained and harassed by members of the security forces before he was released without charge last year in Chimanimani while investigating cases of looting of food handouts.
Nyamutumbu said journalists also want training on covering Covid-19, especially when it came to the handling of statistics.