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Jenfan Muswere, Zimbabwe's Information minister


Information minister misleads cabinet on media co-regulation



INFORMATION minister Jenfan Muswere (pictured) misled cabinet on the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz)’s position on principles to amend the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Act that will expand the definition of media practitioners, create the Media Practitioners Council to regulate the profession while putting the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) — which is supposed to be independent — under the direct control of the minister.


Muswere told cabinet his proposals had the full backing of the media rights organisation Maz, the ZMC and journalists — which is untrue. Maz is in fact advocating for co-regulation, under a regulatory framework that recognises self-regulation, wherein the media sector would self-regulate, with some oversight and ratification by the ZMC.

The ZMC is a Chapter 12 institution alongside the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission. Chapter 12 institutions are constitutionally supposed to report to Parliament and not the minister, as proposed by Muswere.

Section 233 of the constitution states that independent commissions have a mandate to support and entrench human rights and democracy, protect the sovereignty and interests of the people, to promote constitutionalism, to promote transparency and accountability in pubic institutions, to secure the observance of democratic values and principles by the stare and all institutions and agencies of government-controlled entities.

Section 235 (1) (a) explicitly states that independent commissions “are independent, are not subject to the direction or control of anyone” while section 235 (3) says “no person may interfere with the function of the independent commissions”.
Zimbabwean media practitioners are locked in a fierce debate over media regulation amid a tug-of-war between those who want statutory regulation through the backdoor, which the minister is pushing for, as well as self-regulation and co-regulation.

Statutory regulation entails the government’s involvement in enacting laws for media conduct, while self-regulation and co-regulation would see the media enforcing its own standards and both working together to maintain standards, respectively.

On 30 April, cabinet approved the additional principles to amend the ZMC Act [Chapter 10:35], as presented by Muswere, which are aimed at standardising training in journalism and mass communication and expanding the definition of a media practitioner, among other aspects.

Muswere told cabinet that he had the backing of Maz, a grouping consisting of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum, Media Monitors, Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe, Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, Gender and Media Connect, Media Centre, Enhancing Community Voices and the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations.

“The nation is advised that the Media Practitioners’ Bill seeks to create a legal framework that outlines parameters for the regulation of the media as provided for in section 249(3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. This entails the creation of a Zimbabwe Media Practitioners Council, which will be responsible for the regulation and enforcement of professionalism among all media practitioners,” reads a cabinet briefing dated 30 April.

“The Media Council will use delegated power from the ZMC to discipline its members. The Media Practitioners Council will also deal with conduct and ethics. Media Practitioners/Councillors will be elected and will include nominees from the Editors’ forum, public media institutions, private media institutions and academic institutions.”

The additional principles also cover the ownership of mass media services in the country, notably limiting foreign ownership of mass media services in Zimbabwe.

“The amendments will also standardise training in journalism and mass communication thereby entrenching professionalism. Furthermore, the definition of a media practitioner will be expanded, and a Media Council of Zimbabwe established for purposes of regulating the media,” it reads.

The Media Council of Zimbabwe will therefore usurp the mandate of the ZMC.

“The additional Principles also cover the ownership of Mass Media Services in the country, tenure of office for Commissioners and the reporting structure. Foreign ownership of mass media services in Zimbabwe will be limited in order to promote local content, local business and employment.

“Zimbabwe Media Commissioners will serve for a one five-year term, which is renewable once, and the Commission shall report to the Minister as provided for in the Constitution. The additional principles are a results of the many consultative meetings with ZW, Maz and ZMC. The journalists support the proposed principles.”

However, in its position paper seen by The NewsHawks, Maz said it is advocating self-regulation, without interference by the proposed council, however with some oversight and ratification by the ZMC.

“The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz), a network of media professional associations and media support organisations, re-affirms media self-regulation as the most democratic regulatory framework for the media. The founding principles of Maz are derived from the Constitution of Zimbabwe, in particular Section 61 and 62 that expressly guarantee freedom of expression, of the media and the right to access information,” reads the position statement signed by chairperson Perfect Hlongwane.

“Maz’s submission on the principle of co-regulation is informed by the constitutional provisions that guarantee freedom of expression, media freedom and the right of access to information. The co-regulation that MAZ may subscribe to given the obtaining policy context is one in which a statutory regulatory body co-exists with independent specific media self-regulatory bodies to enforce journalism ethics under codes of ethics as applicable to them.

“The proposed regulatory framework would therefore recognize self-regulation, wherein the media sector would self-regulate, with some oversight and ratification by the ZMC.

“As proposed, the media industry is to partially regulate itself, with a statutory back-up through ZMC. This framework allows for a regulatory framework that ensures and eliminates undue interference in the exercise of freedom of expression and other media and communication rights and freedoms.”

Maz said there has to be a law that gives effect to co-regulation of the media.

“Under the framework proposed by Maz, there has to be a law that gives effect to co-regulation of the media. This law will specifically recognize specific media self-regulatory bodies and mechanism. The specific media self-regulatory professional body will exercise the first instance in handling media complaints, with the ZMC being the appellant body,” it reads.

“Maz suggests that the proposed framework be supported by a separate Act of Parliament that specifies the manner in which the said co-regulation would be dispensed.

“The proposed framework is anchored on the principle of delegation of powers as provided for in the Constitution. The submission also derives from Section 249 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which provides for a law to regulate the media. In this instance, the law will be giving effect to co-regulation of the media.”

Media regulation is enforced by law, rules or procedures, and these vary across the world.

In Zimbabwe, the consensus is that statutory regulation alone will be harmful to journalism. 

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