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Parliamentary issues
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-46
Monday November 15th – Sunday November 21st 2004

MOST of the media failed to explain to their audiences how the self-serving interests of the ruling party appear to have assumed predominance over Parliament’s mandate to enact laws that do not violate the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of Zimbabweans.

This was clearly demonstrated by their failure to fully expose ZANU PF’s continued abuse of its majority in Parliament to subvert parliamentary procedures and ram through controversial laws such as the NGO Bill and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill, despite findings by the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) that both the proposed laws contained provisions that violate the Constitution, the country’s supreme law.

For example, except for The Financial Gazette (18/11), none of the media attempted to fully discuss the controversies surrounding government’s determination to promulgate the two Bills. Neither did they give full details of the PLC’s strong criticism of the proposed laws, let alone, reconcile the committee’s objections with ZANU PF’s justifications for disregarding them.

Rather, the government media avoided these issues by dwelling more on the trivial aspects of the matter as exemplified by Power FM (17/11, 6am) ZTV (17/11, 8pm), The Herald and Chronicle (18/11). Instead of adequately informing their audiences of the MPs’ debate during the unprecedented all-night sitting of Parliament, which resulted in ZANU PF’s legislators throwing out the PLC’s adverse reports, these media were content with magnifying the fact that the legislators had sat for a record 16 hours "without recess breaking its 2002 record of 13 hours".

The Herald (19/11) even went on to claim that the 16-hour marathon debate was "a celebration of the vibrancy of our parliamentary democracy and a sense of selfless duty by MPs" from both ZANU PF and the opposition MDC. None of the government media questioned why government was in such a hurry to fast-track the enactment of the laws to the extent of suspending parliamentary standing orders.

Instead, The Herald (19/11) drummed up a vague and feeble defence of the conduct of the ruling party’s legislators, saying the suspension of parliamentary standing orders was necessary because "detractors" have always alleged that there was "insufficient time for the implementation of electoral reforms and called for the postponement of next year’s general election". Moreover, it contended that Parliament’s all-night debate reflected "meaningful engagement between ZANU PF and the opposition in Zimbabwe", which, it claimed, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has always "trashed".

Ironically, while the paper was giving the impression that there was meaningful dialogue in Parliament on the proposed laws, its previous issue (18/11) and ZTV (18/11, 8pm) quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa attacking MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, during parliamentary debate, as "unpatriotic" and "State enemy number one" for allegedly lobbying Europe to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.

There was no attempt to analyse the underlying implications of such potentially harmful remarks, which the Speaker, Emmerson Mnangagwa, defended when the opposition sought a retraction.

Only SW Radio Africa (18/11) condemned Chinamasa’s remarks and quoted MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi saying it was within Tsvangirai’s "rights to suggest ways and means of exerting pressure on the government of Mugabe so that it does what the people of Zimbabwe expect".

The Sunday Mirror (21/11) also quoted MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube expressing similar sentiments.

However, these two organisations remained largely reticent about explaining the effects of the proposed laws and failed to give details of the PLC’s damning reports.

The Zimbabwe Independent (19/11) also failed in this regard. The paper briefly mentioned the parliamentary proceedings on the NGO Bill within the context of a demonstration by the National Constitutional Assembly in its story, NCA protest foiled.

It was only The Financial Gazette which highlighted that the PLC had declared 12 provisions of the NGO Bill as "inconsistent with the Constitution of Zimbabwe" and had thus described the Bill as constituting "a determined and pervasive attempt to curtail and extinguish the fundamental freedoms" of Zimbabweans.

The paper’s story, compiled while Parliament was still conducting its night deliberations, warned that the PLC’s findings notwithstanding, ZANU PF would use its parliamentary majority "to rubber stamp" the two pieces of legislation.

In contrast, government media reports were evasive, severely biased and misinformed their audiences over the gravity of the PLC’s condemnation of the Bills.

For example, The Herald (17/11) drowned the PLC’s critical report of the ZEC Bill with the purported virtues of the proposed law, which Chinamasa maintained dovetailed with the SADC principles and guidelines on democratic elections.

Power FM (17/11, 6am) also suffocated the PLC’s findings and cynically seemed to celebrate the fact that ZANU PF had abused its majority to reject the committee’s reports, saying the passage of the Bills to the committee stage demonstrated that "the power of numbers (has) started to work for the ruling ZANU PF".

However, it emerged through The Daily Mirror (16/11) and the Financial Gazette that ZANU PF had to whip its MPs into line to ensure that the party outvoted the opposition to enact the Bills. The papers reported that during caucus held a day before the debate on the Bills, ZANU PF Chief Whip Joram Gumbo had threatened ruling party MPs with unspecified action from President Mugabe if they skipped parliamentary sittings ahead of the debates on the Bills.

Although ZTV (15/11, 8pm) and The Herald (16/11) carried similar reports, they failed to view the issue as ZANU PF’s attempts to force its MPs to support the promulgation of unconstitutional legislation regardless of their own independent convictions on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Independent reported corporate law experts expressing concern over government plans to fast-track into law before year-end the Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies (RSIIC) Bill following its recent amendment to cover banks as well. The paper quoted lawyers criticising the law, which they viewed as plans by the authorities to nationalise certain private companies "in the wake of similar actions in agriculture".

Lawyer Sternford Moyo told the paper that the "mischief" that RSIIC was meant to address was well catered for under the Banking and Companies Acts, so there was no need for the "drastic measures proposed in the Bill". He also observed that "the potential for abuse of the new powers is very high".

The government media ignored this matter, with The Herald (19/11) choosing instead, to gloss over the full provisions of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill. The paper only dealt exclusively with that section of the Bill repealing the Witchcraft Suppression Act while remaining silent on the changes it would bring to other affected laws such as the Marriage, Sexual Offences, and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Acts.

And besides briefly referring to the fact that Parliament had thrown out the PLC’s adverse report on that Bill as well, the paper once again failed to state categorically what the committee’s objections were. A glimpse into some of the secretive provisions of the Bill only emerged after the paper cited acting chairperson of the PLC, Innocent Gonese, as claiming that "some sections of the Bill that included Clause 33 criminalising statements denigrating the person of the President or Acting President were unconstitutional" because to "ring-fence his office amounted to a derogation from fundamental freedoms" of the citizenry.

Unforgivably, the private media completely ignored reporting on this proposed piece of legislation.

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