Senior govt official admits working with CIO to vet journalists


Pamenus Tuso

Bulawayo—Ministry of Information officers are working on orders from various government departments that include the Central Intelligence Organisation in vetting journalists, NewsHub was told.

This acknowledgement of security agents’ interference with journalists’ work comes amid concerns from media practitioners at both private and public stables that ministry officials are harassing and targeting them.

The concerns were raised at a recent media safety and security meeting in Bulawayo that was organised by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).

Participating journalists—who will not be named to protect them from victimisation–concurred that interference with their work and harassment by Information ministry officers had increased since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from the late Robert Mugabe.

They accused the officers of straying from their traditional mandate of coordinating government diaries and assisting journalists in accessing information.

They said the information “tsars” had turned into bullies, barring targeted journalists from covering official events and determining who asked questions during press conferences.

“The information officers are now a threat to our security as well as media freedom and access to information. They are now behaving more like State security agents rather than information officers.

“It is a nightmare to cover government diaries these days because the information officers will be telling us how to frame our questions,” said one of the participants.

A Bulawayo-based journalist from a government-controlled publication said he was harassed by an information officer while covering an event in Binga.

“Recently, I was asked by a certain non–governmental organisation to cover an event in Binga in Matabeleland North.

“When the information officer spotted me, he took me aside and told me that I should have sought permission from him before coming into his ‘territory’.

“I was surprised by this behavior because I am not employed by the ministry and only accountable to my employer,” said the journalist.

The deputy director in charge of rural areas, Retired Major Leonard Tarwireyi, said the Information ministry was ready to give support to journalists who wished to cover government events.

However, he added, journalists have been barred from covering government functions on instructions from security agencies.

“Some of the issues which you are talking about have security connotations.

“As a ministry, we work with various government departments and, at times, our officers get orders from these departments such as the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to bar some journalists from covering certain events.

“But, as a ministry, we do not have a policy to interfere with journalists’ work,” Tarwireyi told NewsHub.

The deputy director called upon journalists to be professional and ethical in their work.

“Journalists are our colleagues and we want to closely work with them. However, we expect journalists to be professional and not to distort facts in their reportage,” added Tarwireyi,

Another journalist from the public media reported at the ZUJ meeting that one of his colleagues had been falsely accused of drunkenness by an information officer but the motive could not be immediately established.

“These information officers now behave as our supervisors. At our workplace, we have an incident where one of our colleagues was almost fired after one of the officers lied to our bosses that he was drunk at work. The colleague was summoned for a hearing on the basis of those lies,” he said.

During the meeting, journalists from the private media complained that they were sidelined from government diaries, especially those involving the presidium.

“The information officers now decide who covers government functions. Unlike before, the process for covering the president and first lady is now cumbersome.

“For example, recently, journalists from the private media were denied the opportunity to ask the president, questions during the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF),” claimed another journalist.

The participants also cited political parties, state security agencies and traditional leaders as perpetrators of violence against journalists.

The scribes requested ZUJ and other media organisations to engage the Information ministry over the allegations.

The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and other media organisations have been holding a series of engagement meetings with the police, which has in the past been accused of persecuting journalists as well.

The engagements have seen an improvement in the relationship between the media and law enforcers.

The ZUJ secretary-general, Perfect Hlongwane, expressed concern over the harassment of journalists by Information ministry officers.

“We are quite saddened by such a development that violates press freedom and the right to access to information.

“We will urgently be engaging the ministry on the matter to see how best the challenge can be resolved,” Hlongwane told NewsHub.

The Zimbabwe Editors Forum (ZINEF) coordinator, Njabulo Ncube, also indicated that his organisation would communicate with the ministry to resolve the problem.

“It is a disturbing phenomenon. Information officers on the ground are supposed to facilitate the smooth flow of and access to information instead of being self-appointed gate keepers,” said Ncube.

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