Although Zimbabwe’s Constitution explicitly stipulates that every citizen is entitled to “freedom of the media,” press freedom has had a tenuous existence in Zimbabwe. While recent decades have not seen the direct censorship common before independence (Press Reference, 2016), the public's right to free and unfettered information has suffered from government interference with the print and broadcast media, harassment and arrests of journalists, self-censorship by editors, and media laws that are widely viewed as impeding media freedom (Mudadigwa, 2016). In a statement released to mark World Press Freedom Day (May 3), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (2016) described the situation as a “media minefield.”
Ordinary Zimbabweans have been targeted on charges of criminal nuisance and undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe on social networking platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The media-rights group MISA-Zimbabwe notes with concern that the government’s plans to enact laws that will hinder online activity under the guise of preventing cyber-crimes will have a negative impact on citizens’ right to free expression and access to information (MISA-Zimbabwe, 2016).
Advocates of media freedom find strong support among Zimbabwean citizens. According to the latest Afrobarometer survey in the country, a majority of citizens say the media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control. There is also widespread agreement that the news media should constantly investigate and report on government mistakes and corruption. However, Zimbabweans are divided in their assessments of how effective the news media is in revealing government mistakes and corruption. Further, many Zimbabweans believe that the country’s media often abuses its freedom by publishing lies and does not provide fair coverage to all candidates during election campaigns.
Survey findings show that radio remains the most common source of news for Zimbabweans, though regular use of radio, TV, and newspapers as news sources has declined. Consumption of Internet news has increased slightly, though use of the Internet and social media remain low.