Call to abolish censorship board

HARARE - Arts practitioners and artists drawn from across the arts and culture sector have called for abolishment of the censorship board and other bodies censoring or regulating artistic expressions in order to comply with Zimbabwe’s new constitution.

The recommendation came out of a strategic workshop on artistic freedom and the law held in Harare during the weekend.

Organised by Nhimbe Trust, Arterial Network Zimbabwe and supported by Denmark based Freemuse, the grouping agreed that instead a new classification board should be formed and mandated to issue age recommendations to protect children.

Freemuse, an international organisation advocating freedom of artistic expression facilitated the workshop where a communique was issued at the end.

Supported by Sida, the Swedish International Development Agency and the Norwegian Embassy in Zimbabwe the initiative acts as a rehearsal to the grouping as it is preparing a report on the restrictions on freedom of artistic expressions in Zimbabwe.

The findings and recommendations will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – the UN system’s official mechanism for reviewing all member states human rights records in cycles of four and a half year.

Zimbabwe comes up for ‘examination’ of its human rights records next year. A central part of the UPR process is qualified inputs from civil society.

The final communique states that in accordance with international standards and respecting the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe should abolish prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist and use subsequent imposition of liability only when necessary under article 19 (3) and 20 of ICCPR.

It says the effects of art censorship or unjustified restrictions of the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity deprive artists of means of expression and livelihood and generate important cultural, social and economic losses to society.

Instead of censorship boards, classification bodies have been established in many countries to protect children from contents that are easily accessible by them, in particular movies, music and video games.

“The organisers of the workshop wish to establish a constructive dialogue with the Parliament, the Government and relevant ministries and hope that the recommendations can be further qualified in dialogue with relevant authorities.

“The organisers suggest that a classification body should be easy accessible, transparent and accountable.”

Referring to the report on artistic freedom by the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights the organisers suggest the State should ensure that; classification bodies are independent, their membership includes representatives of the arts field and children protection organisations, their terms of reference, rules of procedure and activities are made public; and effective appeal mechanisms are established.

“Decision makers, including judges, when resorting to possible limitations to artistic freedoms, should take into consideration the nature of artistic creativity (as opposed to its value or merit), as well as the right of artists to dissent, to use political, religious and economic symbols as a counter-discourse to dominant powers, and to express their own belief and world vision. The use of the imaginary and fiction must be understood and respected as a crucial element of the freedom indispensable for creative activities.

“Regulation as classification would also enable the public to make an informed decision about what they want to experience, or allow their children to experience; and setting clearer rules for all stakeholders.”

We don’t censor artistes – NACZ

National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ)’s mandate is promote the arts, speaking to developmental issues and is not involved in issues of content at all, an official said.

Communications officer with NACZ Audrey Charamba said they do not censor any form of art as they are just a regulator. “What we just do is look at a body or entity and see if it is worth practising within the sector of arts. I think it is the artists’ advantage and interest to be affiliated with an organisation registered with NACZ.”

She added that they do not censor artists and “if they approach us, all we do is check the paper work to see if they are in order. We then alert the board of censor to say we have cleared this performance or act so they look at issues of content.

“We are actually happy as council that artists go outside the framework than boxing themselves in a box. We are alive to the current to the living world, hence the introduction of awards for varied aspects within the sector like poetry.”

Charamba urged those who think their productions have some ounce of controversy to get clearance from the censorship board. “The arts organisations should dialogue and get clearance of all controversies – clear it and perform.”

She said she works well with the censorship board and urged artists to come together and lobby if there is disconnect in the way they operate ‘because we are there to serve you as the artists. If you feel there are gaps between us and the censorship board then you need to raise and point at them so that lobbying can be initiated.”

Charamba said she wanted to make it clear also that they do not levy any visiting performing artists. “We do not levy the artist but the agent – if the agent wants to bring in a musicians, he should be able to clear him/her. The agent has to do the relevant thing.”

She said while there have been concerns that it is expensive to clear a foreign artist, it has also to be taken into account how much it is. “For one to able to say this is too much we need to find a common baseline to say what is too much or too expensive because this is normal practise throughout the world.

“Then if it is too much we have a requisite to lobby. We are here to serve. But the problem is if this is not pointed out and we have outside opinions, then it is just a bickering.”

She said as of the one stop facility in which NACZ could be able to deal with all issues to do with clearance. “The one stop shop is a concern raised by sectors – artists, arts promoters – it has been noted at the highest level. It is being given uttermost attention.”

Musicians reluctant to partner NGOs

Prominent musicians in Zimbabwe are reluctant to partner non-governmental organisations (Ngos) working on human rights related projects, arts practitioners have claimed.

Josh Nyapimbi, director of Nhimbe Trust told participants at a two day workshop in Harare supported by Freemuse from Denmark that he has approached several musicians were reluctant to be part of any of project that had a human rights element or that which might seem to offend the ruling class.

“They shun controversial issues and their attitude is that they cannot be associated with controversy. They fear a loss of benefits like performing at the state galas; hence if they are associated with controversies they will not be invited to such platforms bank rolled by government.”

It was also observed by others that the aforementioned musicians also have the freedom of association and they can decide on their own who they want to work with.

Arterial Network Zimbabwe country coordinator Peter Churu said artistic freedom has also to be viewed in the context in which Mtukudzi has worked and stayed in the country while others like Thomas Mapfumo have left the county.

“Mtukudzi cannot just destroy what he has built over the years just because he wants to fulfil a part of my human rights project.

“I approached him once when I was working on a film about Tokwe Mukosi because we wanted him to compose a sound track and he asked me a simple questions; ‘Is it not against the government?’ When I told him that it was about the disaster response and problems associated with humanitarian work thereafter, he chickened out while genuinely distancing himself from the issue.”

He added that as for Jah Prayzah he has spoken to him several times trying to commission him to do some work. “I know Jah Prayzah because he is from my neighbourhood and at one time before he started music he wanted me to look at his Shona novel – yes, he has a complete manuscript.

“When I became Arterial Network Zimbabwe country coordinator I told him about the organisation but he is not interested in partnering us because he still wants to keep his relations with politicians like (Saviour) Kasukuwere and (Esau) Mupfumi, A Mutare businessman who has supported him musically.”

Apart from being friend to high politicians Jah Prayzah has also been performing at first lady Grace Mugabe’s functions as well as the army’s entertainment showcases where he is patron.

Poet Chirikure Chirikure urged arts researchers to engage and even involve popular musicians like Tocky Vibes whose work reaches masses across the country.

“We want to tap into them and find out how they manage to draw all these crowds to their concerts – we want to know how they are doing it and travelling around the country without receiving any form of censorship,” suggested Chirikure.

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