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Zimbabwe Media Group Makes Mobile SOS For Journalists

FILE: Undated depiction of new mobile app developed by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) to help protect journalists in distress

With journalists increasingly coming under physical attack and other threats, a Zimbabwean media group has come up with a new mobile app for letting others know a reporter needs help. For VOA, Columbus Mavhunga reports.

Designed with a red "SOS" button, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) application sends an alert message to preconfigured contacts, alerting them of the user’s emergency and location, even if the contacts don’t have the app on their phones.

“This is an Android application that can help you in case of an emergency. Media practitioners who find themselves in emergencies while carrying out their journalism duties,” MISA said in a social media announcement.

MISA Legal Policy Officer Nompilo Simanje said journalists are part of the frontline workers during the upcoming 2023 election. She added that the app was launched after the increase in the attacks and assaults against journalists in the country.

"It is very timely and it will be very useful with the general election coming up next year and also for the purposes of reporting any media violence and calling for assistance in the event of any media violation.”

Blessed Mhlanga, a Zimbabwean journalist who was arrested in early May, says that the app has a value in helping journalists in distress.

"There was an amazing response from MISA Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, chiefly because when we were arrested, there were some journalists who then made calls and we managed to get quick responses. But imagine if there was no one around.”

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Zimbabwe continue to hamstring journalism. It was ranked 137th out of 180 countries on RSF’s annual index, dropping seven points since 2021.

Physical threats are not the only danger Zimbabwean journalists face. There have been allegations of online surveillance of reporters and other hostile acts.

Journalists in that country also face the provisions of Harare's enacted "Cyber Security and Data Protection" law

In response, Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana, told reporters that authorities are not standing in the way of journalists’ work.

“It is very important and paramount that the welfare of journalists should be elevated to a level where it becomes an integral part of the developmental project that is being rolled by government because the media are a key component of creating the critical mass buy-in from the public to the national development goals.”