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Current media laws do not meet benchmarks for enactment of national ICT legislation
October 01, 2008

MISA-Zimbabwe notes current efforts by the Attorney-General's Office to develop an Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Bill through the circulation of a questionnaire which among other considerations seeks to identify shortfalls in ICT related legislation in Zimbabwe.

The Posts and Telecommunications Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) are identified as some of the laws that will be taken into consideration towards the development of a national ICT Bill. The questionnaire therefore seeks to establish whether the three laws in question have overlapping functions and whether it is possible to consolidate them into one Act.

It is MISA-Zimbabwe's strong submission that in their present state the laws in question and BSA and AIPPA in particular, do not even meet the benchmarks for the enactment of a progressive and democratic national ICT legislation more so as it relates to the establishment of an independent converged broadcasting, ICT, cellular and telecommunications regulatory authority.

The long term viability of the broadcasting, telecommunications and ICT sectors lies in securing the independence of their regulatory frameworks. The argument for the independence of regulators in the field of telecoms, broadcasting and technological convergence is guided by several regional and continental covenants such as the African Charter on Broadcasting (ACB), African Union (AU) Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa and the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is hailed as a model independent regulator on the continent. It is MISA-Zimbabwe's argument that the manner in which the Zimbabwean regulators namely the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) under the BSA, the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, and Media and Information Commission under AIPPA, are constituted makes them susceptible to direct political interference. AIPPA through the MIC imposes statutory regulation in breach of the Banjul Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa while BAZ is hostage to the whims and dictates of the Executive in violation of the African Charter on Broadcasting.

These bodies need to be replaced by a truly independent communications regulator that will oversee these sectors. This new regulator's independence must be guaranteed by the law and must have financial, structural and functional independence in order to regulate the sector effectively and impartially for the development of the ICT sector to be guaranteed.

It is MISA-Zimbabwe's submission that regulation should be undertaken for purposes of promoting freedom of speech and access to information. The extent to which a country is said to be democratic is the extent to which it is seen to actively promote free expression and communication between the people and their leaders through such institutions as the media.

We posit that one of the ways of promoting free expression and communication is through the creation of an enabling environment for media freedom through, among other considerations, establishing a truly independent regulator to regulate the country's communications sector in the public interest, free of any political, commercial or individual self-interest.

It is therefore, MISA- Zimbabwe's humble submissions that the Attorney General Office and the government in general in its quest to come up with a national ICT Bill should be guided by the following principles that govern the operations of independent regulatory bodies:

  • there should be clear separation of powers, with the government being responsible for policy development, an independent body being responsible for the implementation of policies and regulating the sector whilst privately owned media concentrates on service provision.
  • regulation should be done in the public interest, with the aim of: creating and maintaining order in the sector, establishing fair competition and quality service, promoting free speech, access to information as well as consumer protection.
  • providing distinct legal mandate of the regulator's duties and responsibilities, free of ministerial, commercial or private control.
  • Involving every one, that is, the executive, legislature, civic society, business and the general public in the appointment process of the regulator's board.

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