The 2017 Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture happened at Wits University last night. 

By Karen Mwendera and Michael Pedro

Media freedom continues to play critical role in a thriving democracy and ensures that all human rights are enjoyed. This was the central message of this year’s Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held at the 2017 Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg last night.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer who has received international recognition for her defence of journalists and press freedom, delivered the keynote. Mtetwa, who herself has been the subject of harassment, physical assault and prosecution, used the platform to emphasise that the law and media should work closely with each other in rooting out corruption within government and the private sector. “Investigative journalism is important in our region, or generally in the developing world. I think we have seen in South Africa the power of the media has brought international companies to their knees”, she said.

Mtetwa used the example of the Zimbabwean government’s role in the “largest mine of diamonds in the world”, referring to the Chiadzwa Diamond Mine in Mutare West which was underreported in her country. She said, “We had the president himself admit that 15 billion dollars’ worth of diamonds disappeared”.

According Mtetwa, the media should have investigated where the diamonds went and the players that were involved. Mtetwa believes that “many good stories don’t get told because of fear of reprisals”.

Louise Voller, an editor in chief at Danwatch in Denmark, and a member of the audience, said that press freedom is not an issue in her country. “We have history for free media and free press. I think some of the obstacles are behind the scenes and no one is cracking down on media as such,” she said.

However, Voller believes that businesses and government still play a role in their media.” We have very tight regulation on how they can advertise and how you can be under pressure sometimes without knowing really,” she said.

Mtetwa added that the media plays an important role in ensuring that all human rights are enjoyed. “No country can claim democracy when they stifle freedom of speech”.

The Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture celebrates the life of the former Wits student and journalist who was assassinated on 22 November 2000 while investigating political and financial fraud in his home country of Mozambique.