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would restrict public access to official information
November 17, 2010
Borders calls for the withdrawal of bill which is about to be submitted
to parliament and which would allow the authorities to block public
access to official documents including judicial decisions, new legislation
and public records.
Announced on 22 October and called the "General Law Amendment
Bill," the proposed law's sole aim seems to be to place
additional obstacles in the way of access to information and thereby
hamper the work of the media even more.
"Drafted by members of the coalition government's Zanu-PF
wing, led by President Robert Mugabe, this bill would just aggravate
the already precarious situation for Zimbabwe's media,"
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François
Julliard said. "It is a political manoeuvre designed to prevent
any critical examination of the government's actions."
Julliard added: "The bill is extremely dangerous as it would
allow the authorities to adopt unjust measures without anyone knowing
and without anyone being able to protest. It shows that the government
is rejecting transparency in favour of secrecy and abuse of authority."
Under the proposed law, the publication of any government document
would require prior permission from the authorities. A human rights
group or a journalist, for example, would need the justice minister's
permission to publish a judicial decision affecting the public's
rights. This would restrict the ability of ordinary citizens to
monitor what the authorities do and, as such, it is contrary to
the principles of good governance.
The bill's announcement has coincided with a number of developments
in recent weeks that have raised concerns about a renewed crackdown
on the media. The government announced at the start of this month
that no licences would be issued to new radio or TV stations. Two
journalists, Nkosana Dhalmini and Andrison Manyere, were arrested
while covering a public debate at the end of last month and were
held for two days.
And an arrest warrant was issued last week for The Zimbabwean editor
Wilf Mbanga in connection with an article critical of President
Mugabe that was published after the 2008
elections. Mbanga has lived in London for the past six years.
Zimbabwe already has two laws that throttle free expression. One
is the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), adopted
in 2002. The other is the Interception
of Communications Act, adopted in August 2007. The coalition
government made significant efforts to limit their negative effects
earlier this year, for example, by issuing licences to several privately-owned
dailies. This bill constitutes a major step backwards.
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