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impediments that have inhibited the realization of media reforms
December 15, 2011
The topic that
I have been asked to make a presentation on, while it infers a direct
analysis of the policies of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe,
it remains a matter that must be of utmost concern to every single
Zimbabwean. I make this immediate assertion in order to emphasize
that the key issues around media freedom and media reform in Zimbabwe
are all derived from the Article 20 of Zimbabwe-s Constitution
which gives all of us that right to receive and impart information.
Indeed there are what have been generally described as undemocratic
limitations to this section (public health, national security etc).
But the key
point in my observation and in relation to this important topic
that I have been asked to present, is that this right to receive
and impart information has existed since our national independence
in 1980 and therefore it is a right that precedes as well as surpasses
Political Agreement of 2008.
It is from this
fundamental premise that I wish to examine the topic in question.
I am sure that the conveners of this conference have a particular
urgency in seeking to understand the political impediments that
have inhibited the realization of democratic media reform in Zimbabwe.
would be one that has emerged in the context of the processes around
the licensing of free to air national radio broadcasting licences
by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The controversy
has been about the legality of BAZ as well as various perceptions
around the companies that have been awarded the licenses. As recently
as Tuesday 13 December 2011, the matter has taken a further political
twist with MDC-T members of parliament moving a motion that these
licenses be rescinded altogether. So as it is, there is limited
reason to assume that there will be collective resolution within
the inclusive government of the emerging contestations around broadcast
media reform as was seen with the print media.
spoken for and within our current political context, the issue of
democratic media reform in Zimbabwe is one that is generally misunderstood
by our political leaders in the inclusive government. Initial evidence
of this misunderstanding was demonstrated during the negotiations
that led to the formation of the inclusive government. During these
negotiations, there were amendments that were made to the Broadcasting
Services Act (BSA) and the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in what
some negotiators called 'necessary compromises. They however
did not define the extent of the necessity of these compromises
in direct relation to the enjoyment of the right of the people of
Zimbabwe to receive and impart information. Instead the issue focused
on getting concessions that largely included the participation of
parliament and eventually, in the aftermath of the appointment of
the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, the same particular office into
the appointment processes of various persons to become commissioners
or board members of BAZ and of the ZMC.
advice from civil society players, the political parties of that
time and of present day chose the path of looking at media reform
from a highly politicized perspective as opposed to one that takes
into account the right of the people to receive and impart information.
In this too, the political players made the grievous political mistake
of assuming media freedom to be a privilege and therefore not a
right. And the end product of this approach has been the maintenance
of laws that criminalize freedom of expression via AIPPA, POSA
and read with both these acts the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
might argue that within the context of the inclusive government
, it is one political party more than others that has persistently
undermined media reform. I would not necessarily disagree with that
point because since our national independence it is indeed Zanu
PF that has yielded the executive authority that comes with government
all of the time. But in the aftermath of the GPA and formation of
government itself, it is evident that a key political impediment
to media reform has been found in two particular components of the
policy approaches of government actors and political leaders. These
a) An incremental
approach to media reform
b) A politically
expedient lack of knowledge and understanding (either deliberate
or non-deliberate) of the media, media freedom and freedom of expression
by policy makers.
The first point
is self explanatory in the sense that it is apparent that any form
of media reform has been slow and highly politicized. This is true
in relation to changes in legal and policy frameworks. A tacit example
of this is the decision to not only retain the Zimbabwe Media Commission
(ZMC) and AIPPA, BSA, albeit with slightly different terms of reference,
but with greater roles and influence (e.g. the ZMC is now a constitutional
Further to this,
the inclusive government has fought over the people that sit on
media related constitutional and statutory boards more than they
have sought a holistic and fundamental democratization of our media
policies and media environment . This is a particularly telling
point because it re-affirms the 'politics of benevolence-
that now informs the approach of government to the issue of freedom
The second point
I refer to is that of a lack of knowledge or understanding of the
media by government on media issues. This lack of knowledge is not
because the knowledge does not exist or that policy makers do not
have access to it. Instead it is based more on matters to do with
political expediency and a desire to maintain some sort of hegemonic
presence via control of the media by all political parties in the
This was initially
demonstrated through the amendments to media laws and the maintenance
of the criminalization of freedom of expression curing the negotiations
that led to the GPA and the formation of the inclusive government.
Even in the aftermath of that there has been a tendency by government
in its collective responsibility element to continue with processes
that are inimical to democratic media reform such as arrests of
journalists, media freedom activists as well as limited progress
in the diversification and editorial independence of the media.
A final political
impediment to the key national question of media reform is also
to found in those, like me, who are activists in the struggle for
media freedom. We have tended to be too subservient to the incremental
and sometimes partisan interests of those in power. And this has
included over-compromising on what are democratic media freedom
principles in the hope that we will gain the ear of government or
those that have vested interests in the same, be they international
donors, business interests or partisan political considerations.
We have occasionally lost sight of the goal and in the process have
tended to have to react to events after their occurrence.
It would however
be necessary to conclude by providing a way forward framework. There
must be a consistent understanding on our part that media freedom
is not a privilege but a right as enshrined in Section 20 of Zimbabwe-s
constitution, Article 9 of the African
Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. It is this fundamental point that
must inform how we approach any strategic way forward.
We must not
over compromise on this principle, and this is one of the main reasons
why organizations such as the Voluntary
Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) continue to exist. At the VMCZ
we have been asked many questions as to why we are not asking to
be members of the ZMC and our reply is that we do not believe in
being complicit in the criminalization of the journalistic profession.
And also because
while it may have seemed convenient in the euphoria of the early
stages of the GPA, we remained focused on the democratic value of
freedom of expression. The challenge therefore over the Christmas
holidays is to review, reframe, re-strategise re-struggle ourselves
back to the platform of democratic value and democratic principle.
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