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The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act: Two Years On
Article 19
October 27, 2004

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The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, commonly referred to as AIPPA, was passed by the Parliament of Zimbabwe on 31January 2002 and signed into law by President Mugabe on 15 March 2002. It may accurately be described as the leading weapon of the government and the ruling ZANU PF party in their ongoing campaign to stifle independent media reporting in Zimbabwe.

Crafted by the Minister of State for Publicity and Information in the Presidents Office, Jonathan Moyo, AIPPAs trail of destruction can be traced to its enactment in 2002 and the plethora of arrests, intimidation, harassment and measures of control, which immediately followed. These have been directed at media workers of all sorts – journalists, photographers, vendors and even drivers – as well as media outlets and, in particular, the independent print media. The closure, on 12 September 2003, of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday, ranks as AIPPA’s severest blow against freedom of the press in Zimbabwe.

A brief history of the adoption of AIPPA provides some context as to why such a repressive piece of legislation was adopted. An important part of the context is the growing challenge within Zimbabwe to ZANU PFs political dominance. By 1999, ZANU PF was confronted with an increasingly popular opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as well as an increasingly independent and assertive print media. This led to an intensification of attempts to muzzle the independent media.

The 22 February 2000 Constitutional Referendum marked a turning point in the fortunes of the ZANU PF party and was an important milestone in the political history of Zimbabwe. In the Referendum, the people resoundingly rejected the government-sponsored draft constitution, the first time that ZANU PF had ever been defeated in an election. A key concern was that, even though the Constitutional Commission that produced the draft had been handpicked by the government, the executive insisted on a number of clauses in the draft constitution, including one mandating official acquisition of land, on a compulsory basis and without compensation. The referendum loss was the first indication that ZANU PF was starting to lose its erstwhile almost total grip on political power. It also heralded in a period of political violence and economic decline, after a period of relative calm and prosperity.

The Referendum was followed by parliamentary elections in June 2000. The MDC won a significant number of parliamentary seats, close to an overall majority of those which were openly contested (the president appoints 20 members of parliament directly), becoming the first party outside of government to wield parliamentary influence since the 1987 unity agreement between ZANU PF and PF ZAPU.

After near defeat in the parliamentary elections of 2000, ZANU PF, as governing party, put in place a number of measures to increase its control over the media, access to information and the electoral process. These measures intensified in the lead-up to the presidential election of March 2002, although AIPPA was passed into law only after Mugabe had been declared the victor in that election.

A particular aspect of these measures was the emergence on the Zimbabwe political scene of a new breed of State-sponsored militias, created to terrorise political dissent, regardless of the form it took. The government trained youths in military strategy under the guise of the controversial National Youth Training Service. The brutal violence perpetrated by these militias is well known and more than 180 people were reportedly murdered in the name of land redistribution and the oft-abused concept of sovereignty between February 2000 and March 2002.

The government also acted to further tighten its already considerable control over the government media, both print and broadcast, including the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), as well as leading newspapers such as The Herald and The Chronicle. Measures included changing the governance systems to give it more direct influence and removing independent-minded editors and senior journalists.

At the same time, there was a sharp increase in attacks against the independent media, both verbal and physical. The Daily News, for example, suffered two very serious bomb attacks, one against its premises on 22 April 2000, just before the parliamentary elections and another on 28 January 2001, which destroyed its printing presses. Numerous copies of independent newspapers have been seized by pro-government groups, journalists and readers of the independent media have been attacked and beaten, and independent newspapers have even been banned from entering certain areas. These ‘unofficial’ actions have taken place in the context of repeated lambasting by officials, including the executive, of the independent media, suggesting that the latter are not only trashy and full of libel but also injurious to the national interest and even security.

The government also introduced a number of repressive laws, starting with the Broadcasting Services Act 2001, passed on 3 April 2001, which gives the government very extensive control over any future private broadcasters, should licences ever be issued (so far, none have). This was followed by the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) 2002, adopted on 10 January 2002, shortly before the presidential elections and then, more-or-less concurrently, by AIPPA. POSA imposes a number of stringent content restrictions on the media and also poses strict limits on demonstrations and public gatherings.

AIPPA itself seeks to control the independent media in a number of key ways. It grants wide-ranging powers to a Media and Information Commission, which is firmly under government control, and imposes registration/licensing requirements on both media outlets and individual journalists. It also imposes a number of strict content restrictions on the media.

These measures have, cumulatively, resulted in a high degree of control on the part of the government over the flow of information and a corresponding shrinking of the space for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. They have also coincided with an extremely severe economic crisis, which has seen unprecedented contraction in the economy, as well as a period of serious social and political unrest, and violence.

This report focuses on the first two years of AIPPA, describing the legislation, critiquing it and providing an overview of the way in which it has been implemented and the impact this has had on the free flow of information and ideas in Zimbabwe. It also provides an overview of the context in which AIPPA operates, including other repressive laws and measures, which prevent independent perspectives from being voiced.

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