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AIPPA amendments spark media outrage
Walter Marwizi, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
December 23, 2007

BOTH Zanu PF and the MDC ignored the input of journalists as they rushed through Parliament amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), it emerged last week.

The amendments were passed in line with agreements reached at the talks brokered by South Africa.

Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, said the bills had to be fast-tracked, together with three others, the Public Order ad Security Act, Broadcasting Services Act and the Electoral Laws Amendment Act in order to pave the way for harmonised polls next March.

The Zanu PF and MDC negotiating teams agreed to amend the laws in an effort to ensure a level playing field in the election. These laws have been considered draconian and out of synchronisation with SADC norms and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections.

But as the two parties rushed the bills through Parliament on Tuesday night, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights noted: "They missed an opportunity to involve all stakeholders and ensure that substantive, far-reaching and acceptable amendments were made to such insidious legislation which could have had a substantive effect in ensuring a satisfactory electoral environment in the run-up to the 2008 polls and beyond."

In the case of AIPPA, both parties failed to get an input from the media professionals directly affected by the bill.

This left Zimbabwean journalists, who should have been the first to celebrate amendments to AIPPA, largely disappointed.

The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists which represents 98% of practising journalists was not given a chance to make an input into the bill.

ZUJ president Matthew Takaona said the union was "extremely disturbed" by the fact that none of the negotiators saw it fit to consult stakeholders in order to come up with amendments "owned rather than imposed on the media industry".

There was also no attempt to consult the Zimbabwe National Editors' Forum, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, Misa Zimbabwe and other media-related organisations that have lobbied for the amendments to AIPPA.

This piece of legislation has been used by the government to shut down private newspapers.

Notable among them was The Daily News and its sister paper The Daily News on Sunday. The Media and Information Commission (MIC) also restricted the operations of journalists by denying journalists licences.

Determined to get rid of the MIC which has been described as "the media hangman", journalists and other stakeholders have worked hard for the past three years to establish a voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe. They hoped their own organisation would replace the statutory MIC, once AIPPA was amended.

The MCZ has a code of conduct which governs the operations of journalists. The code was endorsed by all journalists and other stakeholders this year.

But both Zanu PF and MDC negotiators ignored the pressing need for a voluntary organisation and proposed the establishment of another statutory body, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, which would replace the Tafataona Mahoso-led MIC.

Misa Zimbabwe, which made an analysis of the bill, said nothing would change as the MIC would simply be renamed the ZMC. It would remain with its "vicious spots".

"Misa dismisses the proposed amendments as amounting to applying lipstick on a frog," said Loughty Dube, the chairperson of Misa Zimbabwe.

He said the commission would still be tasked with functions of media regulation, registration of mass media and accrediting journalists. Members of this body would be appointed by the President, though drawn from a list prepared by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders.

Iden Wetherell, the chairperson of Zinef, said the government had to do more to show that it was genuinely concerned with addressing the concerns of journalists.

"Following amendment of Aippa, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum calls upon government to demonstrate its sincerity by appointing credible representatives of journalists to the Zimbabwe Media Commission and readmitting to the country without condition Zimbabwean journalists currently living in exile and all foreign correspondents including those expelled from Zimbabwe since 2000, many on spurious grounds," Wetherell said.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said fast-tracking bills showed a worrying and flagrant lack of respect for processes allowing public input and scrutiny of legislation which affects the Zimbabwean public.

"This, in turn, greatly undermines the democratic space, and the promotion and protection of human rights in the country," said the organisation.

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