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Proposed bills to amend AIPPA, POSA, BSA gazetted
December 17, 2007

The government on 14 December 2007 published proposed amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA).

The proposed amendment Bills contained in the extraordinary gazette reflect no serious intentions on the part of government to democratise the laws in question dwelling instead on inconsequential issues which will not advance basic freedoms such as the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and freedom of assembly and association.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill proposes to make changes to those parts of AIPPA dealing with media regulation and accreditation of journalists without among other issues addressing the right to access information held by public bodies.

Under the Bill the Media and Information Commission will be reconstituted as the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). The ZMC will now consist of nine members appointed by the President from a list of persons nominated by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders. These members will be chosen on the basis of their knowledge of and experience in the press, print or electronic media or broadcasting.

There is no provision for existing board members to continue in office under the proposed new Commission.

The functions of the ZMC are stated as "to uphold and develop the freedom of the press", as well as "to promote and enforce good practice and ethics in the press, print and electronic media, and broadcasting" and ensuring that the people of Zimbabwe have "equitable and wide access to information". The Commission retains the functions of registering mass media and news agencies, accrediting journalists, investigating complaints against media persons and services and reviewing decisions of public bodies regarding access to information.

It also proposes the establishment of a Media Council, appointed by the ZMC, which will be chaired by a member of the Commission. It will consist of 12 other members, representing various sectors nominated by associations representative of those sectors; two members representing accredited journalists, two representing advertisers and advertising agencies, representatives of mass media trainers, churches, businesspeople, trade unions, women's groups, youth groups, the legal profession and tertiary educational institutions.
The Media Council will work with the Media Commission in developing and enforcing a code of conduct and ethics to be observed by journalists and mass media services.

The Media Council will, if so required by the Commission, follow up complaints against mass media services and journalists, whether accredited or not. In the event of breach of the code the Council will recommend a penalty for imposition by the Commission. Penalties include monetary penalties, payment of the expenses incurred by Council and Commission, suspension of accreditation [suspension from practice for an unaccredited journalist], cancellation of mass media service registration and publication of apologies or corrections in the case of "injurious allegations".

Appeals against the decision of the Media Council can be lodged with the Administrative Court.

The Minister of Information and Publicity will have the power, in his absolute discretion, to relax the provision, stated in Section 65 of the principal Act, that only mass media services controlled by Zimbabweans may be registered.

The period of registration of a mass media service is extended from two to five years.

Registration may still be refused for previously operating without being registered. Renewal may be refused only if a mass media service has been convicted of "abuse of freedom of expression", has failed to notify the Commission of changes in its registered particulars, or has failed to publish a correction of harmful untruthful information published by it.

The new Section 78 lists the privileges of accredited journalists, including access to Parliament and public bodies, attendance at national events and public events, and making audio and photographic recordings of such events. Unaccredited journalists will not enjoy the privileges listed and will be barred from full-time employment by mass media services and news agencies operating in Zimbabwe.

The new Section 79 deals with procedures for accreditation by the Media Commission. Accredited journalists must as a general rule be citizens or permanent residents of Zimbabwe. There is provision for temporary accreditation for non-citizens/non-residents for up to 60 days (up from the present 30 days), with the possibility of extension.

Meanwhile, the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill comes up with a new section which provides for the reconstitution of the present Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The BAZ will now consist of 12 members appointed by the President after consultation with the Minister and the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders. Members shall be constituted as follows:

(i) two shall be persons chosen for their experience or professional qualifications in the field of broadcasting technology and broadcasting content.
(ii) A chief
(iii) A lawyer
(iv) A public accountant
(v) A representative of churches or other religious bodies
(vi) Three other members
(vii) Three other members shall be appointed by the President from a list of six nominees submitted by the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

In the event that any group, council or the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders fails or refuses to submit any nomination upon being requested to do so by the Minister, the Bill mandates the President to proceed to appoint the members of BAZ. It, however, does not specify the criteria of those whom the President will have the prerogative to appoint.

The Bill proposes a new section which has a detailed statement of the purpose and objectives of the Act for the guidance of BAZ. It proposes the ensurance of efficient use of broadcasting services bands as well as the encouragement of the establishment of modern and effective broadcasting infrastructure taking into account the convergence of information technology, news media, telecommunications and consumer electronics.
The Bill also proposes the transference of some of the Minister's powers to BAZ.

The Public Order and Security Amendment Bill (POSA) amends the law relating to public meetings, processions and demonstrations. One of the proposed changes to POSA is that those who intend to organise public meetings, political rallies or demonstrations will now appeal to a magistrates' court if the regulating authority (police) prohibit them from holding the planned meetings or demonstrations. Presently, they are required to appeal to the Minister of Home Affairs.

A new section prohibits gatherings in the vicinity of Parliament, a court or any protected place or area declared as such in terms of the Protected Areas and Places Act unless permission is given by the Speaker, Chief Justice, Judge President or responsible authority of the protected place.

The POSA Amendment Bill proposes to make mandatory the requirement for the police to give notice to the organiser of an affected public gathering where they have evidence that disorder may ensue if the gathering is allowed to take place. Police will be required to enter into dialogue with the organisers of the gathering before prohibiting the meeting from taking place.

Presently organisers are required to give seven days' written notice ahead of planned gatherings to a senior police officer designated as the regulatory authority for the area concerned.

But Section 4 will be amended to deem that notice to have been properly given if it is delivered to the most senior officer present at the nearest police station close to the place where the gathering is proposed to be held.

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