MUTARE – Journalists and civil society representatives have welcomed Jonathan Moyo, Media, Information and Broadcasting Services minister’s recent engagement with the media although there were reservations on his sincerity.
Twenty-five journalists and civil society representatives gathered in Mutare last week at a Misa-Zimbabwe workshop dubbed ‘Media Law and Policy Regulation in Zimbabwe.’
They agreed that the media must engage Moyo and his ministry.
“Let us engage the minister and work within the framework of these new attitudes,” said a participant.
“Moyo’s engagement might be genuine although they maybe doubts of its sincerity. It sounds suspicious, but it is something we should embrace.”
The gathering also felt that Moyo’s engagement meant that government was taking over debate on the media, something which was positive.
“Now that government has taken the media agenda, we should find ways in which we fit in this agenda,” said Patience Zirima, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz)coordinator.
She said already there were signs that something is moving within the broadcasting sector which has been under-performing.
“The firing of the ZBC board is a positive sign that broadcasting reform is in earnest.
“We have five years in which we look forward to government taking a lead in the broadcasting reform agenda.
“We urgently urge government to issue community radio station licences.”
In his key presentation, Chris Mhike, a lawyer, unpacked the state of the media law and policy regulation juxtaposed with the provisions of the country’s expansive and progressive bill of rights in the constitution of the republic of Zimbabwe.
Mhike said those working to repeal media laws like Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act should take into account that these laws are not only meant for the media, but wholesome communities.
“Aippa stifles debate among communities as there is no room for community radio stations which can create an effective platform for ordinary citizens,” said Mhike.
The lawyer said society was an important element in information dissemination, hence the use of our local languages which can be transcript accurate data.
“It is unfortunate that even today we have a new Constitution that is not translated in local languages. We are talking of languages and accessibility to the common man.”
Mhike called on the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) to promote the three-tier broadcasting system which will eventually create space for community radio stations.
“The problem with Baz is that it invites application as and when it wants, whereas applications should always be coming.
“If Baz doesn’t call for applications, then there are no applications. That is a weak Act.” Kumbirai Mafunda, Misa-Zimbabwe vice chairperson said the gathering was both timely and necessary given the long road “we have travelled together as media stakeholders in our quest to create an enabling environment for freedom of the media and access to information in the country.
“We are also encouraged by the ministry’s pronouncements on the need to do away with criminal defamation from our statutes.
“A wholesale media reform agenda will pro-actively compliment the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ Special Rapportuer on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, commissioner Pansty Tlakula’s campaigns on the decriminalisation of all forms of expression whether by the media or the public at large on the African continent,” said Mafunda.
He said although the intention to substitute criminal defamation with civil remedies is welcome, there is need to ensure adequate safeguards are put in place to protect the broader public from wanton defamation, premised on the need to strike a balance between the exercise of the right to free expression on one hand and the need to protect the reputation and integrity of the individual.
“In doing so, it is critical for the media stakeholders here present to go through the bulk of the laws that restrict access to information, media freedom and freedom of expression with the aim of escalating our advocacy work, calling for the repeal of such laws in compliance to both the country’s domestic, regional and international obligations.
“We are encouraged by the fact that the new Constitution we have been lobbying for is now the country’s supreme law.
“We therefore think this workshop will help us to gain appreciation on the laws that violate the provisions of media freedom and access to information that are in the new charter and hopefully map a way forward pertaining to the same,” said Mafunda.
He added that they welcomed the new Constitution provisions on the media with the appreciation that in the last 10 years, there has been little to no change in the legislative and policy framework governing the media industry in Zimbabwe.
“Neither has there been noticeable repeal nor extensive amendments of the legislation that hinders the full enjoyment of media freedom and access to information.
“I would like to note in passing the restrictive nature of the Broadcasting Services Act; Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act; the Interception of Communications Act; the Official Secrets Act; the Entertainment and Censorship Act and the Public Order and Security Act, among others as a violation of the new charter.”