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Repressive effects of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA)
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2005-31
Monday August 15th – Sunday August 21st 2005

THIS week SW Radio Africa (19/8) and The Standard (21/8) exposed the repressive effects of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) on freedom of expression when they reported the "first conviction" of a journalist charged under the draconian security and media law.

These media reported that the editor of the Gweru-based Sun newspaper, Willie Muponda, had been convicted of violating POSA by publishing a false story that claimed a Gweru woman had committed suicide following the demolition of her phone shops during Operation Murambatsvina.

The Magistrates’ Court found Muponda guilty of "publishing falsehoods" and fined him $100 000 (or three months’ jail).

Although Muponda published a retraction when he discovered the story was false, as is the universally accepted practice in such cases, the State used the apology as more evidence against him instead of considering it as mitigation.

Apart from the fine, the effect of this law has been to brand Muponda a common criminal, which carries all manner of social disadvantages and prejudice. Such punishment is entirely disproportionate to the offence, which, in most democracies does not carry any criminal penalty. The Standard reported Muponda’s intention to appeal against the conviction, although it also reported the journalist saying he would have to find the funds to do so, further demonstrating that the pursuit of justice comes at a price small publishers can ill afford. The end result is that journalists and media houses will avoid stories that incur any risk of expensive litigation, thus further undermining Zimbabweans’ right to freedom of expression.

The Zimbabwe Independent’s claims that the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) had infiltrated The Financial Gazette and the Mirror group of newspapers by acquiring controlling ownership of them, also attracted attention during the week.

Despite having failed to provide conclusive evidence to back up its allegations in its initial story (12/8), the Independent (19/8) followed up its claims with a speculative story that begged for adequate substantiation.

Sensationally headlined Mediagate deepens; the story was mainly based on reactions to the paper’s first report and the alleged behind-the-scenes power struggles at the Mirror stable, rather than on substantiated facts.

Fingaz Editor, Sunsleey Chamunorwa, did little to dispel the allegations either. His florid response (18/8) to the Independent’s inadequately researched story turned out to be an evasive and emotional piece that lacked any clear information about the ownership of his paper.

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