As the world commemorates the 2020 World Press Freedom Day, the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) takes this opportunity to acknowledge the role being played by Journalists in reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic.

The lockdowns that have since been declared by a number of countries brings to the fore the importance of ensuring that citizens access information related to the Covid 19 pandemic, personal protection and security. Therefore, Journalists remain at the forefront of providing timely, accurate and relevant information moreso noting the rampant fake news that is being peddled mainly through social media.

ZACRAS acknowledges the on-going process seeking to ensure the licensing of community radios with the deadline for submission of applications having been set for 29 May 2020. ZACRAS continues to call upon the authorities to ensure that each and every community radio applicant be given an equal chance and opportunity. There is therefore a need to ensure that the adjudication of the applications be done in a fair and transparent manner devoid of partisan interests.

The licensing of community radios will go a long way in promoting access to information and participation by marginalised and underrepresented communities in Zimbabwe. As we are battling the Covid-19 pandemic, ZACRAS remains cognizant of the fact that there are communities who are not regularly accessing relevant information needed to make critical decisions. It remains ZACRAS’ conviction that the existance of community radios in Zimbabwe would have greatly assisted local and timely dissemination of information on Covid 19 as has been witnessed in other countries such as India and Ethiopia amongst others.

As the media is covering the Covid 19 story, Governments need to guarantee the safety and security of Journalists so that citizens access information on the Covid 19 pandemic. It is therefore saddening to note that upon the declaration of the lockdown which commenced on the 30th of March 2020, Zimbabwe witnessed high incidences of arrests and victimization of Journalists carrying out their professional duties, a situation which should never have happened in a democratic country.

Apart from Governments, media owners should ensure the provision of the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Journalists. This will enable the safeguarding of the safety and wellbeing of Journalists to disseminate information for public consumption. Where possible, media owners should go a step further by providing a risk allowance for Journalists risking their health and well-being and that of their families as they cover the Covid 19 story.

The impact of Covid 19 has resulted in a number of companies scaling down operations leading to either job losses or salary cuts, and the media has not been spared. As Governments are formulating rescue packages for the vulnerable in society, there is also a need for the establishment of media relief funds which cushion Journalists so that they are still able to report on Covid 19.

The 2020 World Press Freedom Day is being commemorated under the theme ‘Journalism without Fear or Favour’.

Source: Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS)