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Recommendations to ban media coverage on elections
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2006-23
Monday June 5th 2006 – Sunday June 11th 2006

THE Financial Gazette (8/6) reported this week legislators’ alarming recommendation to starve Zimbabweans of any information about an election for at least two days leading up to the poll.

The paper said the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Communications had recommended that "government bans media coverage of elections at least two days before voting begins", following proposals by Media and Information Commission chairman Tafataona Mahoso that his body be given more powers to regulate distributors of foreign publications "that flood the…market a day or two before elections".

In an effort to justify such clearly undemocratic intentions aimed at further eroding the citizenry’s basic rights, the committee was reported passively citing editors of government papers trying to project the suggestion as an international norm, claiming that similar laws existed in the UK and US.

However, an unnamed US diplomat dismissed such feeble attempts to draw parallels with his country’s statutes as "totally false" saying the comparison "displays total lack of knowledge of the compliance laws in the US" as it did not "have media blackout prior to elections", which violated the "First Amendment".

But despite such revelations, Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya continued to try to draw parallels with US statutes in an effort to reinforce official claims that the country’s repressive media laws were universally acceptable.

The Herald (13/6) passively quoted him claiming that while Washington had labelled AIPPA "draconian", a "comparative analysis of the legislation with the Patriotic Act of the US showed that the latter was more prohibitive to the operations of the media".

Without being challenged to explain how exactly the two laws were similar, he was then allowed to gloss over the abusive nature of AIPPA by projecting it as upholding the public’s right to information.

Said Jokonya: "AIPPA is the only kind of legislation in which you can challenge government to reveal any information", adding that the Act was "not a Zanu-PF thing but was discussed in Parliament".

The paper allowed these claims to pass without challenge.

For example, no attempt was made to remind the public how the ruling party subverted the parliamentary process to ensure the enactment of the law, which MDC legislators strongly opposed.

Neither did the paper note that contrary to Jokonya’s claims, Sections 5-29 of AIPPA actually place barriers to access official information rather than facilitating it. For example, Section 14 bars access to all information on Cabinet deliberations except where the deliberations, resolution or draft resolution is made or considered in the presence of members of the public. Government officials can also delay or defer responses to public inquiries virtually indefinitely in many cases.

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