Call for media reforms intensify

HARARE - Media practitioners in the country have high hopes for this year including the licensing of genuine community radio stations, among other reforms targeting the sector.

At the heart of media reforms should be the uncompromised position that the media has a utility value in enhancing citizens’ participation in the affairs of their country and making informed decisions.

According to Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chapter director Tabani Moyo that overarching position is espoused in the country’s Constitution, specifically sections 61 and 62 that speaks to media, expression of freedoms and access to information.

The envisaged reforms target the repressive and archaic laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and an overhaul at public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).

In reforming the media sector, Moyo said this should be done with a stakeholder-centric approach to ensure that it’s done with a long-term perspective. 

“In this regard, there is a broader expectation that the State will genuinely liberalize the broadcasting sector through a three-tier broadcasting system as opposed to pronouncements by the permanent secretary in the ministry of Information Nick Mangwana that the State will license its own community radios and limit investment threshold to 20 percent for foreigners,” said Moyo.

He said in addition, the reforms agenda should attend to policy framework towards content generation and the harnessing of the digital dividend from digital migration process. 

“We are also expectant that the government should reconstitute the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) and pay back its 51 percent equity that it holds illegally. 
Government has no business in print media. We will be happy to see the transformation of ZBC into a public good that is responsive to the diversity and depth of Zimbabwean people. This requires wholesale implementation of the KPMG audit recommendations,” he said.

ZMMT is the controlling shareholder in the Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited (Zimpapers), which owns the State-owned Herald and Sunday Mail, among other titles. 
Zimpapers has since extended its tentacles into the broadcasting sector where it operates a radio and television station.

“In addition we are fixing our eyes on the regulation of the online space through proposed cyber-crimes and cyber security bill. This is done with the overall belief that competitive laws enhance citizenry engagement on the key issues affecting them on a daily basis,” said Moyo.

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe director Loughty Dube said government instead of doing piecemeal media reforms should do a major overhaul of the media framework and that should include holistic reforms. 

He said apart from the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Bill, BSA amendments and access to information laws and data protection laws, it is vital that government come up with a ZBC Public Broadcaster Act that will truly transform the ZBC from being a State broadcaster into becoming a truly public broadcaster.

Dube said government should also come up with a Media Practitioner’s Bill that will define the professional operations of the media and conduct of the media in the execution of their duties.He said if one goes back to previous election reports dating back to 2008 they all speak to the issue of transforming ZBC into serving the interests of the public and not political actors and a professional media also serves the public good and a media practitioner’s law will seek to professionalise the media through definition of who is a journalist and setting up of a professional body to self-regulate the media.

He added that by not doing a wholesale job of reforming the media, government will miss an opportunity to democratize the media space and join a growing small number of African nations such as Namibia who have professionalised and democratised media space and freedom of information and expression

Media practitioner and lawyer Jacqueline Chikakano said while the media reform agenda is broader than the alignment of laws with the Constitution, finalisation of the alignment of the laws should be the main objective, especially targeting AIPPA, BSA and the ZMC Bill.

“Let’s start with that and if this can be finalised within the year that would be great progress. Once this is out of the way I think that would pave way for focus on other non-alignment but equally critical issues aimed at ensuring growth of the sector and its ability to adapt to changes especially those brought about by technology and towards effectively responding to threats to the viability of traditional media in particular,” said Chikakano.

Media Alliance of Zimbabwe programmes manager Nigel Nyamutumbu believes that there is need for a multi-pronged approach in reforming the Zimbabwean media in this coming year. 

Nyamutumbu is of the view that the country needs a new law that gives effect to citizens’ right to information, a process which should naturally see the repeal of AIPPA. 

He said Zimbabwe also urgently needs to open up the broadcasting sector, whereby genuine community and privately-owned radio stations are licensed. 

For that to happen, he reasons, the broadcasting regulatory authority has to be independent and to that extent the BSA has to be amended. 

“There is also need for all state controlled media to be transformed to being public service media. Part of the steps to attain this is to review all legislation that have to do with the ZBC, which at law is both a public and commercial entity,” said Nyamutumbu.

He added that there is also need to restore ZMMT as a way of entrenching editorial independence at Zimpapers.

“The industry as a whole ought to look at other ethical and professional challenges curtailing the sector, by robustly discussing the prospects of a media practitioners bill and strengthening self-regulatory frameworks. All these interventions must be shadowed by other critical discussions including media sustainability, digital security and internet freedoms,” he added.

Media practitioner and journalist Vivienne Marara said government through the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services needs to urgently work at ensuring the licensing of people centred and independent community radios.

“This should be supported by the existence of a policy framework which sets out the parameters for the full functioning of community radios in a democratic manner. We continue to urge government not to be at the forefront of establishing community radios but only ensure the existence of a supportive environment to sustain the flourishing of community radios.

“Parliament needs to urgently look at amending the Broadcasting Services Act with specific focus on limiting the powers of the minister, allowing foreign funding in broadcasting, allowing trusts and Associations to be in a position to set up community radios and explicitly guaranteeing funding of community radios through a government grant which is managed by an independent body,” said Marara. 

Media practitioner Rashweat Mukundu said: “I think we need a proper access to information law that promotes and supports accountability and the anti-corruption move by the government. 

“We need to see the licensing of community radio stations not government-owned community radio stations. We need to see a reformed ZBC that captures the diversity of our stories and not the story of those with power.”

Journalist Koliwe Majama said: “Broadcasting Services Act should have a clearer framework on the licensing of community radio.”

Lawyer and politician Obert Gutu said a democratic nation should enjoy a plurality of media platforms, hence government should prioritise instituting media reforms that will make obnoxious laws such as AIPPA a thing of the past. He said at any rate, the supreme law of the land guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

“Let us allow the media to speak truth to power. As the Fourth Estate, the media should act as the voice of the people, the voice of the voiceless. The media should be allowed to fully expose all the excesses of the movers and shakers in both the private and public sectors as well as within religious organisations. On its part, the media must report responsibly and desist from being petty and frivolous. The people out there want to hear, watch and read about hard-hitting news stories. They want to know what happened to our diamonds, they also want to be fully informed about topical issues such as climate change and globalisation. 

“The media should have a cutting edge. They shouldn’t be mundane, predictable and boring,” said Gutu.


Comments (2)

Zanu will never ever liberalize the airwaves. They have used state resources like ZBC and Herald as extensions of Zanu. As a result almost 40yrs later all we have is one TV station. That's embarassing. All this talk is insencere, Zanu will never act on it. They're evil dinasaurs incapable of change

Moe Syszlack - 13 January 2019

ndozvinhu zvisina nebasa rese izvi - he reads a newspaper and listens to a radio and watches a TV in this era anyway.

willo - 14 January 2019

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