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your right to free expression: Interview with Hilton Zvidzayi, Voluntary
Media Council of Zimbabwe
July 28, 2009
This is an
Inzwa feature. Find out more
Inside/Out with Hilton Zvidzayi
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and why was the Voluntary Media Council formed?
Media Council of Zimbabwe was formed in 2007 and became fully
operational in January 2009. The Voluntary Media Council was formed
because of repressive media laws, namely AIPPA
which was quite oppressive. AIPPA was being applied selectively,
especially against the private press. The VMCZ was formed as a self
regulating body for the media taking after other professions such
as law, the medical profession and engineers that have got their
own self regulating bodies.
does the VMCZ settle disputes between the media and the public?
Our complaints mechanism is quite informal in that when
someone complains we call them in and we also call in the offending
newspaper, the editor or the journalists. We sit down with the media
complaints committee comprising three lawyers. We try to reach an
understanding where both parties, the complainant and the media
house, are satisfied with the outcome. We are concerned with restoring
reputation. So if a newspaper, television or radio station is caught
on the wrong side of the code of conduct that guides the media profession,
they are expected to issue an apology, a retraction, a correction
or a right to reply of the complainant.
successful has the overall process been?
We haven't made much headway in terms of receiving
complaints and it's more because of the fear that is gripping
Zimbabwe at the moment. People are afraid to come out into the open.
You can receive complaints on the phone, but when you request people
to put them in writing so that you can take action on them, people
tend to pull back fearing victimization. But we have had a number
of cases where we have received complaints in written form and we've
where people are afraid of retribution, can you guarantee anonymity?
If someone complains about something that is general we
can guarantee anonymity. But if its an article in a news paper,
where their name is mentioned and they are complaining, we can't
guarantee anonymity in that their name is already in the papers.
During the arbitration process pending judgment we would need to
mention the names in reference to the case.
you tell us about some of the disputes that you have successfully
I can give an example of one complaint that we are currently
working on: the General Agriculture and Plantation and Workers Association
complained about the ZBC in that they were interviewing people concerning
an electricity crisis, and one of their respondents said 'takupfeka
hembe dzisina kuainwa kunge vanhu vekumapurazi'. So the General
Agriculture and Plantation Workers of Zimbabwe complained on
behalf of their members in that that report was saying that farm
workers put on clothes which are un-ironed, which is not the case.
We are also handling a complaint against one of the most prominent
journalists in Zimbabwe but the verdict isn't out yet.
ways can ordinary people become more involved in media reform?
Through exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Saying out what they think about ZBC, saying out what they think
about ZTV, what they think about the Standard, the Financial Gazette,
the Independent. If they have any complaints against these medias
houses then we encourage people to speak out so that the VMCZ can
take action against them.
view what specific problems do media outlets in Zimbabwe face?
The major hurdle that is being faced at the moment is the
legislative environment. If you look at laws such as AIPPA, BSA,
of Communications Act, these are quite restrictive in that they
force journalists to self-censor. They can't really say things
out as they are. There is fear of harassment, arrest, torture and
there is also the risk of newspapers being closed down like what
happened to the Daily News, the daily News on Sunday, the Tribune
and the Weekly. So media laws are the major hindrance to press freedom
at the moment.
can this issue with the media laws be resolved?
are calling upon Parliament, and we have had several meetings with
the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media and Communication
Technologies and we have asked them to repeal laws such as AIPPA,
and BSA. We are calling for the repeal of AIPPA, not amendments.
It has to be repealed in its entirety. There is nothing good that
is coming out of it. Instead of promoting access to information
its actually working against access to information. So we are encouraging
Parliament to repeal AIPPA and at least to amend the Broadcasting
Services Act of Zimbabwe so that it can allow more players in. Other
repressive laws such as POSA
(Public Order and Security Act) and the Criminal
Law and Codification Act need to be repealed so that the media
is free to operate as a fourth estate.
amended AIPPA that was appended to the Global
Political Agreement - do you feel it was an improvement on the
first AIPPA or is it just the same thing?
It was a cover up. There was no improvement whatsoever. If you look
at that amendment, what they did was to change the administrative
structure of the Media Information Commission (MIC). In terms of
access to information, they didn't change anything. In terms
of licensing and registration, they didn't change anything.
They just changed the way that people are supposed to be registered
yet what we are saying is that people are not supposed to be registered
to speak out - its your right to freely express yourself. People
shouldn't have to be accredited.
there been any positive progress towards changing the media environment
by the government since the GNU was formed?
I wouldn't want to say there was much progress. There's
been headway in that some sections of the Herald like the Nathaniel
Manheru column has been removed. But if you look at the way the
Herald and ZBC has been working they haven't changed, they
are still biased towards a certain ideological position, and they
are still biased towards one political party. If you look at the
media landscape in general, nothing has changed, its either you
are pro this or you are anti this. Nothing much has changed in terms
of the media landscape, after the GPA was signed.
weeks ago the Minister of Information and Publicity said that CNN
and the BBC were never banned in Zimbabwe. But those same media
houses are saying that they were banned. How do you feel about that?
Politicians say one thing and the next day they say another
thing. They might say they didn't ban CNN and BBC literally,
but if you look at the accreditation fees, they are so high, that's
as good as banning them. If you look at the accreditation process,
its too hectic and its unnecessary, that's also a way of banning
them. Also the way they were received and the conduct of the government
around those people its as good as banning them. They didn't
feel safe operating in Zimbabwe, so its as good as banning them.
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