'No political will to reform media laws'

HARARE - While Zimbabwe’s new Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the media and access to information,  the operating environment is still littered with legal and extra-legal hindrances that affect media operations, a Press freedom group has said.

Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (Misa-Zimbabwe)’s State of the Media Report 2014 says Zimbabwe’s new home-grown Constitution must be aligned to media laws.

“That did not happen during the course of the first session of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe which officially got underway on September 18, 2013 following Zanu PF’s majority victory in the elections of the same year,” Misa-Zimbabwe’s report says.

“It is therefore easy to discern the lack of political will to undertake the expected media, freedom of expression and access to information legislative reforms to give effect to the same constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.”

Misa-Zimbabwe singles out the continued existence of restrictive laws such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Interception of Communications Act and the Entertainment Controls Act, as scuttling citizens’ full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and access to information.

“This is despite rulings against criminal defamation made by the Supreme Court in 2013 and 2014 in terms of the old Constitution as well as assertions by the minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo, (pictured) that criminal defamation should be repealed,” the report says.

“The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act retains sections that hinder access to and free flow of information which is critical to citizens making informed choices as well as holding accountable the executive and any other public institutions for that matter.”

Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef), a grouping of Zimbabwean media editors, recently undertook an evaluation of the media environment in the country and found out that there is very limited consultation in the crafting of laws that relate to freedom of expression and media freedom in Zimbabwe.

The evaluation report Consolidated Draft Media Barometer for Zinef, notes that though government set up the Information Media Panel of Inquiry (Impi) in December 2013 to assess problems bedevilling the media sector and recommend solutions, there was no prior-consultation leading to the appointment of the board.

“The media stakeholders and general members of the public just woke up to the news of the development without their input,” Zinef’s report says.

“However, despite these shortcomings, Impi did conduct consultative outreach meetings across the country to harness Zimbabweans’ thoughts on their desired media reforms.”

Meanwhile, media practitioners are now pinning their hopes on the government-sanctioned Impi’s findings which they hope will culminate in progressive recommendations in addressing the legislative discord in the exercise of freedom of expression.

The Impi outreach programmes involved public meetings, interviews and general discussions with media and information stakeholders and members of the public on various issues concerning the media. Impi, which was launched last year by the ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services to assess the state of the information and media industry in Zimbabwe, comprised 28 members including several senior journalists and experts from other professions.

 

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