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MMPZ comments on legislation, the media and the curtailment of freedom of expression
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted of the Weekly Media Update 2004-6
Monday February 9th- Sunday February 15th 2004

Fears by local democratic watchdogs over South Africa's sincerity in resolving the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe were clearly vindicated when that country's Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma defended the recent Supreme Court ruling legitimising sections of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The Herald (11/2) reported Zuma as saying her government had no plans to discuss AIPPA with their Zimbabwean counterparts as the legislation was constitutional. Said Zuma rather blithely: "We accept it. Should we not accept it? What is really the issue? Has any journalist been refused registration? Have reasons been given for that?" Incidentally, Zuma's disingenuous statements came the same day the government-appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC) announced through The Herald that The Daily News journalists will not be accredited under their current employer because the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe "is not registered", The Herald (10/2). Instead of exposing Zuma's complicity in the erosion of freedom of expression in the country, the Chronicle (12/2) milked the South African Foreign Affairs Minister's unsubstantiated allegations that the South African media was biased in favour of the British policies to fire a broadside at those media. The paper accused the South African media of demonising "the country, its laws and leadership" saying "die- hard Rhodesians who committed acts of genocide during the liberation struggle" were behind such "propaganda".

But the government-controlled media's shameless endorsement of the curtailment of the citizens' right to freedom of expression was eloquently demonstrated by The Herald (11/2) in its comment, We've nothing to fear from AIPPA. The paper defended the legislation saying it was a "necessary check to guard against malicious media excesses that go beyond honest mistakes".

Interestingly, as The Zimbabwe Independent (13/2) noted, the paper's comment was calculated to exonerate itself from being answerable to AIPPA following its publication of a falsehood on February 7 alleging that ZANU PF official Philip Chiyangwa was "facing fresh charges" of mishandling $36 million meant for public works programmes in Mashonaland West.

The paper strangely blamed the carrying of such a false story on "an overzealous sub-editor (who) got carried away, as they are inclined to do in order to attract readers", as if the sub-editor is independent of The Herald. It has yet to apologise for the blatant distortion. Meanwhile, critical analyses on the defects of the Supreme Court ruling on AIPPA appeared in the private media. The analyses coincided with government's promulgation of another controversial piece of legislation disguised as an anti-graft law. Under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Amendment of the Criminal Procedure & Evidence Act) Regulations, Statutory Instrument 37 of 2004 gazetted on Friday February 13th, the State has now been empowered to detain any person accused of corruption and various other crimes for 28 days without trial, instead of the standard 48 hours. This, according to the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF), is a violation and unwarranted deprivation of the accused's constitutional rights. However, what is even more disturbing, said the LRF, is that the new legislation does not only deal with economic crimes but could also be used for offences arising from violation of the POSA although the "Explanatory Note" in the regulations misleadingly avoids mentioning this. None of the media captured this aspect.

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