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Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-48
Monday November 29th – Sunday December 5th 2004

DESPITE the existence of several pieces of repressive legislation curtailing the citizenry’s basic rights, The Standard (28/11) revealed the extent to which yet another Draconian Bill will erode freedom of expression.

The paper reported that the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill proposes a fine of $5 million or a jail sentence of up to 20 years for "anyone who publishes or communicates to another statements that are perceived to be prejudicial to the State".

The proposed law, the paper noted, "will make it extremely difficult for journalists to operate and will certainly be the most repressive piece of legislation in Zimbabwe’s Statute books".

The Financial Gazette (2/12) and The Daily Mirror (3/12) echoed similar views in their follow-up reports on the matter. What none of the media reported however, was that the relevant section of the Bill is intended to replace similar sections contained in the Public Order and Security Act but which do not contain the same terrifyingly punitive penalties.

But while the private media at least informed the public of this unprecedented plan to silence all criticism of the presidency, the uniformed forces and State interests, the government media conveniently suffocated the whole issue.

In fact, their failure to expose the promulgation of such aggressively self-serving repressive legislation under the guise of upholding the rule of law and defending the country’s sovereignty, resulted in the official media allowing Information Minister Jonathan Moyo to defend AIPPA and the Broadcasting Services Act unchallenged.

For instance, ZTV and Power FM (1/12, 8pm) passively quoted Moyo as having said AIPPA was "meant to protect the sovereignty of the country from mischievous people intending to use local media as a tool for regime change".

Without questioning this claim, the stations then quoted Moyo trying to give the patently authoritarian piece of legislation a democratic face by saying that in any democracy journalists who publish falsehoods are punished "in terms of the law (that) is permissible by the Constitution" and that was "the basis of AIPPA".

The Herald (2/12) carried a similar report.

And like its broadcasting counterpart, it allowed Moyo to mislead the public into believing that AIPPA had sailed smoothly through Parliament.

These media conveniently failed to remind their audiences of the stormy circumstances leading to the enactment of the law, which the Parliamentary Legal Committee had originally found to be so profoundly unconstitutional.

Such docile coverage by the official media of this systematic erosion of citizens’ constitutional rights further affirms them as government lapdogs that cannot be relied upon to provide accurate information.

In fact, their failure to expose government’s disdain for constitutionally guaranteed freedoms establishes them firmly as accomplices of the authorities in the curtailment of these rights.

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