Back to Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
New Constitution-making process - Index of articles
The media environment and the Constitutional Referendum
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
March 16, 2013
go to decide
the fate of Copac’s draft constitution on March 16 2013,
the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe assesses how far the media
environment has changed since the last time they voted in a national
to the Global
Political Agreement (GPA) governing the inclusive
government, media reforms were one of the authorities’
priorities on its agenda of work. But have these reforms been achieved?
The answer is
The same repressive
legislative framework that governed the media then still exists
today, and radio stations and newspapers can be shut down at the
whim of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) if it so pleases using
These laws include
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA); the Public
Order and Security Act (POSA); the Broadcasting
Services Act (BSA); the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Interception
of Communications Act. Despite these laws, it is ironic that
the archaic colonial law of criminal defamation is often used as
the favoured tool by those in influential positions to silence their
is wrong with these laws?
defamation has long been considered a tool of authoritarian societies
to shield those in power from legitimate scrutiny. And even the
African Union, through its Commission on Human and People’s
Rights, is campaigning to have them removed from the statute books
of African nations. The other laws mentioned restrict freedom of
expression and access to information far beyond the levels permitted
under regional and international law. Collectively, they also conspire
entry of independent players into the broadcasting sector;
government’s ability to exercise excessive control over
- Allow the
authorities to exercise direct control over public and state media
and blur the distinction between party and state affairs;
of expression and the free exchange of views;
access to public information; and
- Impose excessive
and unconstitutional controls over the practice of journalism.
During its four-year
tenure, the inclusive government has made absolutely no attempt
to reform these laws, preferring instead, to apply the fig leaf
of allowing more newspapers and two more local radio stations –
the first in the country’s history – in an effort to
disguise its failure to reform the legal media environment envisaged
under the GPA aimed at creating a climate that would promote and
protect free expression and a free, independent and diverse media
has never embarked on a crucial national process like the March
16th constitutional referendum with so many media outlets on the
market since independence, this does not mean substantial reform.
Most of the
country’s new media products only reach urban audiences, leaving
the vast majority of Zimbabweans still in the “dark ages”
of access to information - except for those in the marginalised
communities who have smart phones and are interested in news about
Zimbabwe. Or those who dare to risk listening to the so-called pirate
radio stations, such as Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa.
And the recent
confiscation of radio sets by the police – and their arbitrary
and unconstitutional declaration that listening to pirate radio
stations is “illegal” – is a clear indication
that freedom of information and expression remains a “limited
privilege” for those in urban communities with undeniable
access to a variety of sources of information.
This means that
most citizens living in Zimbabwe’s “marginalised”
communities still remain at the mercy of the relentless propaganda
emanating from Zimbabwe’s pervasive state and public media
(most especially the national broadcaster, ZBC) whose editorial
independence has been systematically emasculated over the years
to exclusively promote and protect the image of ZANU PF, just one
of the three governing coalition parties. Citizens should know that
the future of all the new privately owned news outlets, as well
as the well-established ones too, cannot be guaranteed as a matter
of right, and remain hostage to the current repressive legislative
Nor will their
rights to operate be safeguarded under the new constitution. For
although freedom of expression and the media are explicitly “guaranteed”
under the COPAC draft, this right is immediately undermined by the
proviso that they are subject to any law “regulating”
In other words,
Zimbabweans’ rights to free expression and to receive and
impart information without interference will remain at the mercy
of AIPPA, POSA, the Criminal Code and all those other laws that
suffocate these rights. In the meantime, the Minister of Media and
Information, Webster Shamu, has provided clear evidence of the government’s
intolerance of the right to free expression by repeatedly threatening
“errant media houses” with closure if they continued
“abusing” their right to Press freedom by denouncing
the country and its leadership.
In his most
recent attack in September last year, he exposed his utter disdain
for the principle of the right to free expression when he declared:
“Government has warned them twice and this is the last warning.
There is no need for attacking the President or the leadership…
This is an abuse of the freedom that has been given to them…”
last year at least four journalists have been arrested and numerous
other criminal charges are ongoing against private media institutions
and their staff. Many ordinary citizens have also been prosecuted
under repressive insult laws unfairly protecting the image of the
presidency and the uniformed forces.
attacks have also been used to violate media freedom and Zimbabweans’
right to free expression.
These have usually
manifested themselves in threats, harassment, illegal detentions,
beatings and torture of media workers, newspaper vendors, and other
members of the public by quasi-militia gangs and state security
agents. Clearly, a climate of intolerance and restriction still
pervades Zimbabwe’s media environment.
No doubt today’s
constitutional referendum will be a relatively peaceful experience
because there is no political dispute over its adoption. But most
of Zimbabwe’s electorate are being asked to vote without having
seen and understood the provisions of the new draft law.
efforts of COPAC and Zimbabwe’s media outlets to explain these
important issues, there has simply not been enough time to provide
this information to the public and allow citizens to debate and
understand what they are being asked to endorse by the country’s
that Zimbabweans vote now on such an important matter that affects
all our lives, it is clear, they too, have treated the electorate
with the utmost disdain by crudely violating our right to information
and denying the nation a chance to participate in this process from
an informed perspective. It will not be surprising if the majority
withhold their verdict on the draft.
The coming political
elections is sure to be a completely different ball-game and is
likely to expose the real intolerance of the authorities to those
critical of the status quo.
And the media
is certain to be on the front line.
Visit the MMPZ
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.