20 journalists from four Zimbabwean media houses came together in Harare at the end of March for training on physical safety, digital security, and psychosocial wellbeing, including discussions on key concerns ahead of reporting the upcoming election process in the country.
For many, this was their first opportunity to take part in a comprehensive safety training course, with a range of new skills acquired and plenty to take back to their newsrooms.
“First aid is not just for health workers because I can now implement it in my home, and even in my community,” said a Star FM journalist. “My key takeaway 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 will definitely share the information with my bosses and colleagues, especially now as we head into elections.”
Solidarity is essential
Solidarity between professionals on issues concerning safety and protection of journalists is key to raising standards for all across the industry. Given the highly competitive nature of the Zimbabwean media landscape there are few opportunities for journalists from rival organisations to come together – and even fewer subjects they are likely to agree on.
However, by the end of an intense week of training the value of looking out for each other in potentially dangerous reporting environments had been clearly reinforced, while the idea of coming together in support of colleagues – regardless of their affiliations – had taken seed.
Practical exercises related to basic first aid training were in high demand, along with sessions exploring how to construct and put in place robust policies within newsrooms to help manage crisis situations. Participants also embraced sessions tackling mental health and wellbeing, issues that for many journalists have been absent from the safety discussion.
“The psychological aspect was key because most journalists often fail to handle this,” said a reporter from the Sunday Mail. “Just last year, we lost a colleague to suicide after he had for some time battled trauma and depression.”
As part of WAN-IFRA’s long-term engagement with partners in Zimbabwe, notably through its sector-leading Women in News programme, further training is scheduled in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists that will tackle election reporting techniques and professional practice. The focus on safety will also continue, with ongoing support available to partner newsrooms during the course of 2023.
“’The training was long overdue! I now understand safety preparedness and the necessary steps to take when faced with a situation,” said a senior manager from Alpha Media Holdings. “I’ve also become aware of the need to provide adequate resources to my team when they will be going out to potential conflict zones.”
Essential dialogue on pressing issues
The week of safety-focused activities concluded with a dialogue event – part of a series convened by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) aimed at creating a conducive environment for reporting during the upcoming elections – that brought together journalists, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the national police service, and government representatives. It was an invaluable opportunity for media practitioners to raise concerns and receive answers from those in charge of Zimbabwe’s election process.
“It’s important for the media to interface with the different sectors that make up the elections,” said Nigel Nyamutumbu, Coordinator for the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe. “For example, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, mandated to govern and administer elections in this country… are here to exchange and outline their plan for the 2023 elections.”
MAZ has taken 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 further the advancement of critical press freedom discussions 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 is needed to assist in strengthening the environment for good journalism.
“As a government, we’re in full support of the capacitation of journalists and other stakeholders on the election reporting process,” said Jonathan Gandari, Chief Director of the Ministry for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services. “The content of these discussions around the safety of media practitioners is super important to us. We have an Act [the Media Practitioners Act] in which we stipulate how we will protect the practice of journalism.”
Existing legislation was indeed a key discussion point during the event, with a number of journalists addressing concerns surrounding the implementation of safeguards and access to information. At the conclusion of the dialogue session, media and stakeholders agreed seven recommendations to guide further discussions in an effort to continue building consensus around the way forward.
That there is need to expand dialogue and engagement with political parties, particularly in promoting transparency, access to information and protection of journalists covering political gatherings;
There is need to raise awareness on the existing accountability mechanisms at law and within the Journalists and Media Practitioners Code of Conduct;
There is need to strengthen the policy and legal frameworks governing elections to ensure gender inclusivity and the expanded role of social media;
To make use of various tools and knowledge materials including but not limited to manuals produced by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and by other media stakeholders;
To sustain engagement and partnership between media stakeholders and the police;
To dialogue with the electoral management body on possible review of costs of accreditation of journalists covering elections;
To promote the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act to ensure enhanced access to information within public bodies.
The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe is an alliance of media support organisations including the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe chapter), Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (ZINEF), Gender and Media Connect (GMC), the Media Centre, the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS), the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) and the African Community Publishing Development Trust (ACPDT).
WAN-IFRA’s Strengthening African Media Programme, funded by a generous $1M grant from the Foreign Ministry of Denmark, prioritises safety of journalists, advocacy on key media freedom issues, and business and editorial capacity support to media companies in nine African countries.
Under WAN-IFRA’s SaferMedia approach, dedicated resources and expert advisory services are provided to partners to address, from an organisational perspective, multiple angles concerning physical safety, health and mental well-being, digital security and infrastructure, newsroom policies and company-wide procedures.
Find out more here.