The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) supported by OXFAM through DFAT has realised the media’s key role in bringing mass awareness on key environmental justice issues. Bringing together media practitioners drawn from different private and public media houses from the 20th-21st April 2021 to a sensitization and training meeting themed, ‘Media as partners in natural resource governance in Zimbabwe’ has reinvigorated journalists’ passion to act as sources of information, monitor environmental decision-making by government and call for parliamentary oversight in holding the duty bearers accountable.
ZELA is celebrating two decades of existence this year. This training of journalists is continuation of the organizational culture of fostering effective media reporting on environmental, economic, social, and cultural rights. Members of the fourth estate were taken through the case studies that portray how natural resource exploitation has in some instances resulted in pollution, forced evictions, lack of transparency which remain some of the key challenges confronting several communities. Balancing the interests of investors against those of the society has been a complex issue that merits an assessment from an environmental and human rights justice perspective coupled with objective reporting of emerging issues.
ZELA also took time to share its several campaigns including the environmental child rights campaign #MyPlanetMyRights. Whilst environmental degradation and human rights violations affect all people, children and youth are particularly vulnerable, due to their evolving physical and mental development and status within society. The impact of environmental degradation on children can have irreversible, lifelong, and even transgenerational consequences. To ensure every child lives in a clean, green, safe, healthy, and sustainable world, ZELA has joined progressive organisations for the #Myplanetmyrights campaign, a global movement of over 30,000 advocates worldwide calling on governments to recognize children’s right to a healthy environment.
Not to be missed in the discussion was the issue of the rising global demand for land and natural resources that has made protection of community lands and natural resources an urgent priority, particularly in countries such as Zimbabwe with little or no legal protection for communal land rights. Land ownership and use rights in communal areas is a major problem. Historically, land tenure has been controversial in Zimbabwe. Now, the main legal challenge for rural communities is weak tenure rights over communal land which is state owned. This has resulted in land grabbing and evictions driven by private actors using the land for mining or large-scale agricultural projects. This is increasingly becoming an issue of concern and the media practitioners were urged to develop strategies for human rights reporting that is objective and aimed at fostering environmental and social justice in Zimbabwe.
Journalists play a critical role in driving public discourse on climate change, zero carbon energy transition, sustainability, and biodiversity. Loss of livelihoods and increasing poverty levels because of climate change is a major issue. Global warming and the changing weather patterns have resulted in increased cyclone induced floods and acute water shortages promoting increased food insecurity in most communities. Lack of disaster preparedness and ineffective disaster risk response strategies has exacerbated the vulnerability of communities to climate change shocks. As has always been argued, ‘the pen is mightier that the sword’, thus it is critical for the media to research and adequately profile these issues.
A veil of secrecy surrounds climate and energy contracts. There is limited public participation when mega investment deals are signed, let alone parliamentary oversight. Deals and contracts, including loan agreements are constantly plagued by allegations of corruption, unfair loan repayment terms, secrecy, lack of public disclosure of contracts and information to citizens. The recent Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2 demands the media scrutiny to ensure that aspects of transparency and accountability are not thrown out the window.
Regarding normative change, the media was encouraged to popularize various mechanisms (United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development Diligence Guidance; Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance), promote greater transparency and access to public interest information using technology and open data, carrying out investigative journalism to expose cases in a quest to realise redress. While it is the duty and primary responsibility of States to protect human rights and ensure that companies do not violate them, it is also the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights and human dignity and to contribute positively to the realization of the right to development. At the very least this requires that corporations respect and uphold human rights.
Journalists must be supported to ensure that they effectively play their invaluable civic roles, not limited to watchdog, civic forum, and agenda-setting in the promotion of good governance and environmental justice. The citizens must be availed with adequate and credible information provided by the media that empowers them to hold the duty bearers, investors, and other stakeholders accountable in as far as environmental protection is concerned.