Looking back at the recent elections in Zimbabwe, Tabani Moyo, the director of MISA Zimbabwe, a DW Akademie partner, says journalist safety improved but disinformation continued to proliferate.
People casting their vote in the Zimbabwean general elections at a polling station in Midlands, Kwekwe, Zimbabwe on August 23, 2023
Tabani Moyo is the regional director of MISA and the executive director of MISA Zimbabwe. He is also the covernor of the governing council of IFEX, a global network promoting and defending the freedom of expression, a member of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) steering committee, and the vice chairperson of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) governing council.
DW Akademie: The national elections were held in August with the ruling Zanu-PF party again winning the majority of the votes. MISA did a lot of work in the run-up to and during the elections to assist journalists and media outlets in covering the process safely and comprehensively. Now that some time has passed since election day, what are your major takeaways?
I think one of the most critical takeaways was the reduction in police-related violations [against journalists]. We have yet to record any such violations [this election]. Part of our proactive work was the signing of the Police Media Action Plan in 2017, which started rolling out in 2018. This was the result of our media monitoring, where we realized that the bulk of attacks were being perpetrated by the police.
This doesn't mean that there were no attacks against journalists. Indeed, there were. We have monitored up to 11 violations against the media since the beginning of the year. What this does show is that elections, by their nature, exert certain pressures on the media and expose the media to attacks. However, I think our pre-election interventions helped a lot to keep down the numbers. All of this is part of our Media Defense Fund work, which supports journalists from unforeseen attacks.
MISA also pushed forward what we call the media pledge, where the media pledges to uphold the highest ethical practices during the election. The pledge was an idea that was borne out of our engagements during the elections in Lesotho in 2022, where we mobilized the media to agree on certain principles to minimize both attacks and exposure during the election. There was a reduction in the number of journalists that were targeted in Lesotho. And we thought that it was critical to try and replicate the idea [in Zimbabwe] in the run-up to the elections.
Tabani Moyo is the regional director of MISA and the executive director of MISA Zimbabwe, both DW Akademie partners
Disinformation has been a recurring issue during elections in the region. Was this the case in Zimbabwe and what has MISA done to combat disinformation?
We did quite a bit of work around capacity building across state-owned and privately-owned media, especially in the areas of misinformation and disinformation. We also engaged the freelance community so that they are now empowered to utilize tools that allow them to easily identify misinformation or disinformation. This is important because falling afoul of the challenges of disinformation can lead to loss of credibility and trust in the media.
In Zimbabwe, we did this in partnership with ZimFact, which is a fact-checking platform. We also trained journalists around online safety and security so that they are not so vulnerable during the election cycle. This was all an attempt to build up media literacy so that the media becomes an active player in disseminating verified and accurate information for informed decision-making during the election cycle. So as you can see, even with the election over, our work continues.
Let’s take a step back. Could you briefly outline, more generally, the work that MISA does in Southern Africa?
Tabani Moyo: MISA is an acronym for Media Institute of Southern Africa. It is an institution that was established almost 30 years ago in Windhoek, Namibia, where we had our headquarters until 2015. We then relocated to Zambia and are now headquartered in Zimbabwe.
We currently operate in eight countries in Southern Africa in five strategic areas. The first one is freedom of expression and access to information. The second one is broadcasting diversity and digital rights - broadcasting, because Africa remains a radio community. But with the evolution of the Internet, we now are engaged in the issues around digital rights, privacy, access to information online, surveillance and how citizens engage online. The democratic governance of the net, among other things, is also part of this strategic focus. The third component is media monitoring, where we document violations that have happened in countries where we operate and in those [countries] where we do not operate but where we have alliances.
The fourth component centers around media support, where we build the capacities of media to respond to ever-changing societal factors. The last one is called media defense. This is a response to attacks on media and expression through providing legal, medical, and any other type of support that can help journalists and citizens freely express themselves.
MISA has a long history of working with DW Akademie. What are some of the initiatives that DW Akademie is supporting in Zimbabwe and the region?
DW Akademie is supporting us with different regional interventions that we have consolidated under a larger project called “Spaces of Solidarity”. We are doing this with media outlets and other organizations in Southern Africa that are doing media development work and defending expression and innovation online. It brings together 23-plus organizations annually, including MISA, where we reflect on the key issues we believe are priority areas for interventions and then focus on those.
Apart from that, DW Akademie also supports our Media Defense Fund, which supports journalists who are under threat and does proactive engagement to lessen the number of attacks on journalists. The work to keep journalists safe and secure is invaluable for the media to continue to operate in difficult circumstances.
How important is the cooperation with DW Akademie?
The work has been quite critical during the elections and beyond. DW Akademie has been a strategic partner in our communication endeavors. They've helped not only MISA Zimbabwe but also MISA regional with our current strategy so that there's a bit of uniformity with our communication strategies across our country chapters.
DW Akademie also supports our regional strategy which is bringing together organizations in Southern Africa to mobilize towards defending free expression. This led to the launch of “Spaces of Solidarity” and has allowed us to have organic growth and collaboration within the region. It means that we now have a perspective that is highly rooted in the needs of the organization and its supporting partners rather than the other way around.
Unfortunately, trust in media is dwindling so support, like that which we get from DW Akademie, is existential for the media so that they can continue to do their work.
DW Akademie supports The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and their "Spaces of Solidarity" initiative to strategize and implement regional campaigns around the safety and security of journalists, access to information, shrinking civic spaces, and cyber security and laws. This is part of our regional program to support advocacy for freedom of expression in the southern Africa region.
This initiative is supported under DW Akademie’s Southern Africa program of 2022-24. The program fosters regional advocacy networks and supports campaign activities to promote access to information and freedom of expression across the region, including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This work is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).