16.12.2009 -

Roundtable addresses key media issues, hailed as welcome timely event

World Press Freedom forum explores role of media in national reconciliation and mutual understanding.

On 2 May UNESCO invited journalists and politicians and some members of the civic society to explore and table the role of the media in promoting dialogue, mutual understanding and national reconciliation within the framework of free and independent press.

Conducted as part of the World Press Freedom Day 2009 commemorations, the UNESCO Roundtable was organised under the umbrella of broader Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ)  nationwide celebrations, which also included marches/parades, speeches, exhibitions and entertainment in all the ten provinces of Zimbabwe.

Held at the Meikles Hotel in Harare, the UNESCO Roundtable tackled the topic: “The Media as a Platform for  Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation – Challenges and Opportunities”. Roundtable discussants carefully selected from  all parties across the political divides, the media and the academic and civil society included The Deputy Prime Minister  Prof. Arthur Mutambara, Businessman and former  Zimbabwean Ambassador to China Chris Mutsvangwa , Dep. Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Jameson Timba, MDC-T Director of Information Luke Tamborinyoka,  Zimbabwean academic and lecturer at South Africa’s Witwatersrand (Wits) University Dr. Tawana Khupe, academic-cum-businessman-cum-politician and former publisher Ibbo Mandaza among other key people. Coming as it did at a time when Zimbabwe is coming  from a severely media stressed period and going through  transition  with residual sticky issues in areas of press freedom and media harassment, the UNESCO Roundtable was hailed by participants as timely and very critical.

The UNESCO Roundtable, by and large, recognized the critical role of the media in the creation of a conducive environment for dialogue and national healing and underscored efforts  so far achieved in terms of attempts of “inclusive” coverage of players from different sides of the political divide on the part of state media;  as well as in terms of toning down language on the part of both the state and independent media. However challenges were noted in the areas of  balanced coverage among others as well the lack of true independence and autonomy of the media particularly state media due to excessive government control. 

The greatest challenge highlighted at the Roundtable was the need for the media regulatory environment to be reformed if the ideals of Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression were to be realised in the country. The same sentiments were echoed  in speeches and presentations at the day’s celebrations across the country. Celebrations across the country were supported and officiated by UNESCO Director and Representative Dr. Soo-Hyang Choi, Swedish Ambassador Sten Rylander, Canadian Ambassador  and other important members of the international community alongside key officials from the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity.

As the UN agency mandated to promote the ideals of Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression, UNESCO  continues to work in Zimbabwe and other cluster countries to promote this ideal as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal  Declaration of the Human Rights. World Press Freedom is commemorated every year on May 3, a day that was set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness on the importance of Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression and to highlight the plight of journalists in various parts of the world where Press Freedom is denied.

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