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Regional editors slam govt attempts to control media



REGIONAL media editors have condemned the proposed amendment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Act, which seeks to create a council to regulate the media, saying this is likely to bring back clauses of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).


The country repealed Aippa in 2019, discarding an undemocratic law which had a similar council designed to control the media.

Information minister Jenfan Muswere 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 backing of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz), the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and journalists, which is not true.

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

While the principles are proposing statutory regulation, 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 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 (pictured).

“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 recognise self-regulation, wherein the media sector would self-regulate, with some oversight and ratification by the ZMC.

In a statement this week, SAEF said that government’s proposals are a threat to media freedom as they are going to bring statutory regulation.

“The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) notes with serious concern the Zimbabwe Cabinet principles on the amendment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission Act and the proposed Media Practitioners Bill that are meant to effect media co-regulation and professionalise the media in Zimbabwe,” reads the statement.

“SAEF implores the Zimbabwe government to reconsider the proposed position in order to enhance Press freedoms in the country and to ensure that the agreed co-regulation principle by government and the media sector is properly implemented.”

SAEF said if applied and enacted into law as announced, it will further entrench statutory regulation of the media in Zimbabwe and smuggle back into law clauses from the repealed Access to information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).

A similarly suggested Zimbabwe Media Council was set up under Aippa on 13 September 2012 and was roundly condemned and rejected by the media sector and ultimately it never saw the light of day.

“It would be a tragedy for the government to seek to revive Aippa through resuscitating this ghost from the previous law,” SAEF said.

“SAEF urges the Zimbabwe government to undertake a broad consultative process that will involve media stakeholders, media civil society organisations and media regulatory bodies in order to reach a common position on the democratic implementation of co-regulation.”

The regional grouping urged the government to adopt a holistic and inclusive model anchored on co-regulation — which means an industry-led regulatory system supported by the government, especially on legislative arrangements.

“For the current process to yield the desired results, there is need for clarity of concept, thought and implementation of the co-regulation model. SAEF agrees with Zinef’s position that government should revisit the process to help regulate the media in a progressive — and not stifling — way as this may be the case with the current cabinet proposals which do not represent the letter and spirit of the wide consultations by stakeholders,” SAEF said.

“As SAEF we are prepared to walk the media freedoms journey with the Zimbabwe government and media practitioners in Zimbabwe.”

SAEF said it is in support of the Maz position on co-regulation.

While the principles are going to see the setting up of a council to regulate the media, SAEF said it is in support of the existing complaints handling mechanism and code of conduct which are are effective, and are media industry-led.

“This is the same position of Maz, which reaffirms in its position paper its commitment to self-regulation as the most democratic regulatory framework but subscribes to the consensus position of co-regulation reached between government and media stakeholders,” SAEF said.

“SAEF supports the Maz position on co-regulation in full and warns that proceeding with thecabinet principles in their current state will be against the co-regulation principles agreed to between the government and the media sector.”

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