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Tough media bills passed
June 12, 2003
- Zimbabwe's parliament on Wednesday passed two media bills which
the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) described as the "last
nails in the coffin" of press freedom.
"The struggle is now quite difficult for us," MISA-Zimbabwe director
Sarah Chiumbu told IRIN after the Access to Information and Protection
of Privacy Amendment Bill and the Broadcasting Services Amendment
Bill passed through parliament.
Amendments were needed to the original Access to Information and
Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) after a parliamentary committee
ruled last year that aspects of the law were unconstitutional. However,
according to MISA, the amendments introduced by the Department of
Information and Publicity in the Office of the President actually
served to toughen AIPPA.
The act introduces a system of licensing of the mass media and journalists
through a Media Commission whose board is appointed by the minister
of state for information. The registration of media houses and journalists
operating in Zimbabwe is mandatory, but is also at the discretion
of the commission and, ultimately, the minister.
Minister of state for information, Jonathan Moyo, has argued that
AIPPA would serve Zimbabwe's national interests rather than that
of Western governments.
However, a MISA report alleged: "The act has one purpose, and that
is protecting the institution of the government from scrutiny, by
prohibiting and heavily penalising public/media inquiry and scrutiny
into its affairs and, in addition, by an unrestrained control over
journalists and media companies."
The definitions of "a journalist" and "mass media" are very broad
under the amendment. "A journalist is defined as anyone who disseminates
information for public consumption, and the definition of the mass
media is expanded to include even a church newsletter," MISA information
officer Rashweat Mukundu explained.
"The commission has the power to order journalists to appear before
it to answer charges of misconduct. But we have courts of law for
that - it shouldn't be a commission appointed by a minister," Rashweat
"MISA believes in a self-regulated, independent media council,"
The Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, passed on Wednesday, introduced
minor changes to the Broadcasting Service Act of 2001, which has
also been heavily criticised by MISA and human rights groups for
its restrictions on independent radio and television.
"Radio is the only source of information some people have. Theoretically
the law allows us to start radio stations, but in reality it's all
in the hands of the minister," Rashweat said.
This month the Supreme Court put aside a judgement in the case of
the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, owners of the country's only
private daily, the Daily News, which challenged the constitutionality
of the AIPPA registration process. Judgement is still reserved in
an eight-month-old case of the Independent Journalists Association
of Zimbabwe, who have also challenged AIPPA.
"The only thing left to us are legal challenges, but the legal route
is not giving us any reprieve at the moment," said Chiumbu.
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