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  • Inclusive government - Index of articles

  • Zimbabwe Media Commission
    May 09, 2009

    It now seems likely that the Media Commission will be the first Constitutional Commission set up by the inclusive government. Last month the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Gorden Moyo said that the Human Rights Commission and the Media Commission would be established within the next few weeks. More recently Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Eric Matinenga has said that the aim is to have all four Constitutional Commissions in place as soon as possible and that his personal view is that the Media Commission should be the first commission to be set up.

    Constitutional Provisions for a Media Commission

    Background: Until January 2008 there was the Media and Information Commission [MIC] set up by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [AIPPA] in 2002. Because of the repressive nature of MIC and the AIPPA provisions it administered, part of the package of legislative amendments agreed to under inter party negotiations before the March 2008 Elections was an amendment to AIPPA. The AIPPA Amendment Act of 11th January 2008 made provision for the Zimbabwe Media Commission, but the members of the Commission were never appointed.

    The provisions for the Commission were incorporated into the Constitution by Constitution Amendment No. 19 passed in January 2009 as a prelude to the inclusive government. The provisions for the Media Commission are found in sections 100N to 100Q of the Constitution and are summarised as follows:

    Composition of the Commission

    • the Zimbabwe Media Commission will consist of a “chairperson and eight other members appointed by the President from a list of not fewer than twelve nominees submitted by the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders"
    • persons appointed to the Commission "must be chosen for their knowledge and experience in the press, print or electronic media, or broadcasting".

    Functions of the Commission

    • “to uphold and develop freedom of the press; and
    • to promote and enforce good practice and ethics in the press, print and electronic media, and broadcasting; and
    • to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have equitable and wide access to information; and
    • to ensure the equitable use and development of all indigenous languages spoken in Zimbabwe; and
    • to exercise any other functions that may be conferred or imposed on the Commission by or under an Act of Parliament.”

    Note: it is not necessary to pass another Act of Parliament before the Media Commission is set up – AIPPA, as amended in January 2008, already contains ample provision enabling the Commission to carry out the functions conferred on it by the Constitution and the additional functions conferred on it by AIPPA itself.

    Media Commission Urgently Needed

    This important commission presently exists on paper only. Its precursor – the Media and Information Commission [MIC] ceased to exist on the 11th January 2008, when the AIPPA Amendment Act, 20 of 2007 came into force. This amendment repealed the provisions setting up MIC, without making any provision for it to continue [even pending the appointment of its successor body, the Zimbabwe Media Commission [ZMC]. As the ZMC has never appointed been there has been no legally constituted authority since 11th January 2008 to process applications for registration of mass media services or accreditation of journalists. Media services and journalists were nevertheless called on to register with MIC even after it became a non-legal entity. [An extraordinary demand, putting media house and media practitioners into the invidious position of whether to register with an illegal body or risk penalties for not registering.]. In the Interparty Political Agreement, article 19, the three political parties agreed that the inclusive government would ensure the immediate processing of all applications for re-registration and registration in terms of AIPPA. The Zimbabwe Media Commission would be the only legal route to do this. So the appointment of the Commission is an essential first step towards honouring the IPA commitment.

    Parliamentary Procedures for Nomination for Media Commission

    For the Media Commission, the Constitution states that Committee on Standing Rules and Orders [CSRO] puts forward a list of not fewer than twelve nominations from which the President appoints the chairperson and eight other members. A subcommittee of the CSRO was tasked with working out appropriate procedures for this. The Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, who is a member of the subcommittee, reported that the subcommittee recommended that advertisements should be published calling for applications from persons wishing to be considered for nomination and the nominees would be selected from the applications. This procedure is still subject to confirmation by the full CSRO next week. The Minister also reported that the subcommittee had not envisaged receiving recommendations for commissioners from civil society, or public sector consultation in the selection process.

    The nomination of candidates for appointment to extra-Parliamentary bodies is a relatively new function for CSRO. It would have been inappropriate to follow the methods that CSRO used for making appointments to Parliamentary Portfolio Committees and the Select Committee on the Constitution, where membership was simply shared out between parties. However, the proposed advertising process does not preclude the CSRO choosing [or not choosing] applicants on political grounds. The selection process, after applications are received, by which the CSRO shortlists, interviews and decides on nominees needs to be transparent if the public is to have confidence that the Commission will be impartial and not tied in to party politics. In addition, because party political considerations are likely to play a major role in the President's choice of appointees from Parliament's list, that list should be kept to the minimum twelve names stipulated by the Constitution. Party affiliation should not be one of the criteria for commissioners. Rather, nominations should be made on the basis of impartiality, independence from government or political party influence and the qualities stipulated by the Constitution – “knowledge of and experience in the press, print or electronic media or broadcasting".

    What can Civil Society do to Ensure an Independent Media Commission

    It the Media Commission is to be appointed soon, there is little time for civil society to get involved in the nomination process. The following are some suggestion on what CSOs with an interest in the media could do:

    • proceed on the basis that the CSRO is likely to approve the advertising for applications procedure recommended by its subcommittee, and be working to ensure that suitable applicants are identified and alerted to have their applications and supporting material [CVs etc.] ready for submission when advertisements appear for applications
    • lobby the CSRO to permit CSOs and public sector organisations to put forward candidates to Parliament
    • ask the CSRO to publish a list of all applications received
    • lobby the CSRO for a more open and transparent process for the shortlisting, interviewing and selection of nominees out of the applicants [e.g. respected observers from civil society on shortlisting and interviewing panels]
    • lobby CSRO for not more than 12 names to be sent to the President.
    • ask the CSRO to publish a list of the nominees forwarded by Parliament to the President
    • lobby the President to select the most suitable applicant for chairperson of the Commission and to select the other eight commissioners strictly on merit and without party political bias.

    Same Selection Process for all the Constitutional Commissions

    Minister Matinenga envisaged that the same procedure will be followed for all the four Constitutional Commissions to be set up – in addition to the Media Commission, there is also the Human Rights Commission, Electoral Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission to be established. The principle of Parliamentary involvement in the selection of commissioners applies to all four Commissions with slight variations. CSOs should accordingly be preparing to play an effective role in the ensuring that the best possible candidates are appointed to membership of all the Commissions.

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