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Comment on media's handling of recent amendments to legislation
Excerpt from Weekly update 2003-23

Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
June 09 - June 15, 2003

THE week saw Parliament pass two laws that have a bearing on the free flow of information; the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill and the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill.

Sadly, the private media inexplicably remained silent on the proposed amendments to these laws. It was only from the government-controlled media (ZBC, 11/6 and The Herald 12/6) that the public learnt of the developments.

In their reports, ZBC and The Herald noted that the two Bills sailed through "with no objections". However, they did not adequately inform their audiences about the content of the amendments or the debate surrounding the changes made to the original law. Neither did they explain the effects of the amendments to the public’s right to receive and impart information

The Herald (14/5) initially reported that the text of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill had been altered following the Parliamentary Legal Committee’s reservations "on clauses 3,7, 10, 11, 19, 20, and 25". But the paper did not state what exactly those clauses stipulated, save to say the Bill "is aimed at improving and correcting certain anomalies and errors that came to light since the law was promulgated last year".

In its subsequent report (23/5), the paper reported that the debate on the law had been adjourned to June 10 "to give legislators time to go through the new text of the Bill". Still, the report generalized on the proposed amendments.

Up until the passage of the Bill, this week, none of the media has made any attempt to fully inform the public about the amendments. Neither have they investigated the irregular passage of the AIPPA amendments, especially the unusual withdrawal of the original amendment Bill and its replacement by another one and the obscure role of the Parliamentary Legal Committee. And where was the PLC’s report objecting to the seven clauses? The whole process was devoid of transparency and the media did nothing to help.

Similarly, the media paid lip service to the amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act. Apart from Information Minister Jonathan Moyo’s hint in The Herald (13/03) that the amendment would see community broadcasters being granted licences of up to 10 years, the public is in the dark on the actual amendments to the law.

MMPZ notes that The Financial Gazette appears to have dropped the socio-political context to its coverage of news since a new editorial team took over, preferring to carry narrowly defined business and financial news instead. Admittedly, the paper’s new owners have the right to redirect its editorial focus to that of their choice. But this should not mean the paper abdicates its responsibility to inform its audiences of this vital context to the activities of Zimbabwean society. It would be disappointing if the paper’s new publishers assumed that readers of The Financial Gazette rely on other publications for this important perspective of society because financial and business activity are greatly influenced by political and social developments. It is to be hoped that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Sunsleey Chamunorwa, will fulfil the assurances he gave his readers soon after he stepped in to fill the breach created by the exodus of senior staff in May (22/5).

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