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Weekly Media Update 2010-26
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
Monday July 5th - Sunday July 11th 2010
July 16, 2010

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No hope for media reforms

President Mugabe's omission of a proposed Freedom of Information Bill from the legislative agenda of the Third Session of the Seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe confirmed fears among Zimbabweans that government is not committed to the genuine reform of Zimbabwe's offensive media and information laws.

And instead of scrapping the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act altogether, Mugabe gave notice at the opening of the third session of Parliament that only some sections of AIPPA dealing with the registration of journalists will be repealed - and replaced by a Media Practitioners Bill.

This clearly illustrates that under Mugabe's control government has no intention of repealing the restrictive sections of AIPPA governing the public's right to access information held by government. And the proposed Media Practitioners' Bill simply adopts much of the excessively bureaucratic and restrictive measures contained in AIPPA, thus retaining government's statutory control over media activity in Zimbabwe.

This does not constitute media reform by any stretch of the imagination; it is merely a cosmetic manipulation of legislation to give the appearance of reform.

It also represents a slap in the face for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who, as head of government, had announced an ambitious work plan that included the total repeal of AIPPA and its replacement with a Freedom of Information Bill that went some way towards restoring the peoples' rights to freely access information held by public bodies. Although Tsvangirai also announced government's plans to introduce a Media Practitioners' Bill, Zimbabwe's media community had hoped that its more Draconian provisions would be removed on its introduction to Parliament.

In what appeared to be a "correction" to its initial story reporting that the Bill would "do away with the need for registration of journalists and clarify privacy issues in AIPPA", The Herald (15/7) reported that "the Bill is expected to change registration procedures, rather than repeal them . . . " But it disguised this news under a headline that read 'Media Reforms on the Cards' and stated that the measures were in line with the Global Political Agreement.

However, The Financial Gazette (15/7) reported that Mugabe's announcement was viewed as an indication of "resistance to reforms" by some elements in government, while Newsday (15/7) quoted the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) warning that it "betrays the authorities' desire to maintain controls and restrictions" on the media.

While the MDC might be expected to use its parliamentary majority to challenge the content of these proposed laws, there is little doubt they will get bogged down in a parliamentary stalemate that will leave AIPPA in its present form as an effective weapon for the authorities to maintain their control over all media activity in the country.

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