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to media law passed
of Southern Africa - Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe)
June 13, 2003
On 11 June 2003,
the parliament of Zimbabwe passed into law amendments to a controversial
media law, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(AIPPA). The government said that the amendments are intended to
correct anomalies and errors that became apparent after the law
was signed by President Robert Mugabe in March 2002.
seek among many things to extend the definition of a journalist,
mass media service and also the powers of a government appointed
Media and Information Commission (MIC). The passage of the Bill
hit a snag in May 2003 as the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC)
said it would pass an adverse report on the Bill. The PLC said that
7 sections of the Bill would be unconstitutional if passed into
law. These are sections:
- Section 3
– Refusal of disclosure of information relating to personal safety
by public officials in the interests of personal safety, mental
of physical health.
- Section 7
– removal of the right of journalists to nominate three persons
to sit on the Media and Information Commission (MIC). This right
is conferred in the principal act and the amendments sought to
remove it. Leaving the nominations of MIC board members in the
hands of the minister only.
- Section 10
– Proscribes punitive measures for what the Bill called abuse
of freedom of expression intentionally or recklessly falsifying
information not only by journalists but any citizen or person
on Zimbabwe’s soil.
- Sec 11 –
Surrendering of shares in a mass media service by persons who
do not qualify to own mass media service in terms of the AIPPA
principal Act. A date of had been set as to when this surrendering
or disposal of shares would happen.
- Sec19 - Period
under which a foreign journalists can be allowed to operate in
- Section 20
– Abuse of journalistic privilege and punitive measures attracted
- Section 25
– Appeals to the administrative court on decision passed by the
of Justice and Parliamentary Legal Committee told parliament in
May that his ministry, the Department of Information and Publicity
and the PLC had agreed that the Bill will be withdrawn while the
concerns of the PLC area addressed. As such on 11 June parliament
set down to debate the new Amendments to the Amendments Bill on
AIPPA. Although it was reported that the concerns of the PLC had
been addressed, MISA-Zimbabwe notes that the passing of the Bill
does not change much in making the law democratic. On the positive
side however the Department of Information heeded calls to amend
section 80 of the principal act, which mentioned what it called
"Abuse of Journalistic privilege" and proscribes criminal
punishments for breaking such. This has been changed with the insertion
of new words to make it an offence to "intentionally or recklessly"
falsify information, to, maliciously or fraudulently fabricate information"
or to publish a statement knowing it to be false or without reasonable
ground of believing it to be true, or recklessly or with malicious
intention. The amendment places the onus on the state to prove the
recklessness or intention etc. I other words the outright criminal
element in the law has been removed. However a new section "c"
of the amendments passed read that:
published statement, which is intentionally, unreasonably, recklessly,
maliciously or fraudulently false and either
threatens the interest of defence, public safety, public order,
the economic interests of the state, public morality or public
Is injurious to the reputation, rights and freedoms of other persons:
will be published.
notes that this inclusion allows a wide berth for the commission
and law enforcements agencies to prosecute alleged offenders. There
is no definition of what threatens the economic interests of a country
and what is public morality. This makes the law vague and subject
to abuse. MISA-Zimbabwe still argues that section 80 is not necessary
a there is no need to legislate a "journalists" privilege".
Penalties under this section have also been altered either to be
a fine or imprisonment and not both.
The passed amendments
also do away with the Department of Information and Publicity intention
to have all the board members of the MIC appointed by the Minister.
As such journalists unions still retain the right to nominate three
members to the MIC as already said in the principal act.
The passed amendments
prescribe that foreign journalists can be accredited to work in
Zimbabwe for an maximum period of 30 days depending on the circumstances
of each case the MIC might extend the period. MISA-Zimbabwe however
still notes that the discretion remains with the MIC either to allow
a foreign journalist into Zimbabwe or not as well as to extend his
stay, this is subject to abuse.
concerns with the parliament specifically the Portfolio Committee
on Transport and Communications and the PLC, MISA-Zimbabwe note
with disappointment that the definition of a journalist has been
extended to mean anyone who "gathers, collects, edits or prepares
news stories, materials and information for any service that produces
advertisements, the total print or part of the total print of a
separate issue or a regular newspaper, magazine or journal, or any
publication with a constant name, separate issue of a teletext,
the total data or part of the data of any electronically transmitted
material, or audio or video recorded programme (whether or not it
also disseminates them), whether as an employee of the service or
as a freelancer."
notes that this definition remains vague and open ended. It is extremely
impossible for anyone to establish whether he or she falls within
the category. This has implications on matters of accreditation.
It is not clear who exactly has to accredit or not. In the same
vein the amendments extend the definition of mass media products
to include a wide range of publications and information that would
not necessarily be defined as mass media in the strict sense of
the word. The law now talks of "the total data, or part of
the data of any electronically transmitted material. This would
include WebPages that are accessible to anyone with the requisite
equipment in any part of the world. The question is would these
need to be registered as well. This definition would also affect
such organisations that distribute information on, for an example,
have also extended the powers of the MIC to "on its own initiative
or at the request of any person make orders relating to the policing
of persons and mass media services falling within the confines of
the act". The MIC also has the power to extend the time limit
upon which a public official must respond to a request for information
or deny access to information. It can be noted that the new insertions
give the MIC quasi- judicial powers thus subject to abuse.
It can be noted
therefore that although some of the concerns of the PLC were addressed
the amendments to AIPPA do not go far in democratising the law.
The law still remains lethal in as far as it makes demands for the
accreditation of journalists and media houses respectively. Access
to information remains totally closed and much power is vested in
public officials and the MIC.
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