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MIC not amused on ethics

THE Media and Information Commission (MIC) is not amused by your effort to divert attention from the commission’s letter of September 20 by publishing the distorted story on September 23 claiming that editors and publishers are violating

readers’ rights because the MIC has failed to impose a national code of ethics on them.

In the first place, the MIC has not yet had its opportunity to respond to the allegations made before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications and your reporter is expected to ensure that readers know that the commission’s side of the story has not yet been presented.

But what is astounding in the view of the commission is that your paper has failed to attend to five serious complaints against it and, instead of attending to them, it proceeds to try to justify its behaviour by claiming that it is impossible to know how to handle ethical problems because the MIC has not imposed a code of ethics. The ethical code cannot be superior to the laws of Zimbabwe. The laws must be upheld first.

But the fact that there is no imposed code of ethics does not mean that there is no code of ethics. The process of creating and owning a national code of ethics has gone through many essential phases.

The first phase was the work of the Media Ethics Committee (MEC) which produced the two-volume report Media Ethics and Professionalism in Zimbabwe.

The work of the MEC drew evidence from at least 1 000 consultative meetings around Zimbabwe, in addition to synthesising hundreds of written submissions through desk study. That report was published.

The second phase was the work of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe which resulted in a report called National Survey of Broadcasting in Zimbabwe.

The third phase was the passage of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act itself, which, as your readers know, already contains media ethics.

As you should be aware, the very first principle of media ethics is that publishers, editors and journalists must exercise their freedom and rights within the law of the land. What is shocking is that the groups you cite as demanding that the MIC should impose a code of ethics or quit are the very same ones which have been fighting to have all the media laws of Zimbabwe declared unconstitutional and scrapped. They have failed to achieve this objective because the MIC has defended the law. The code of ethics in question cannot be superior to the laws of Zimbabwe.

In case it is not clear to you how the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act contains the foundation of a national ethical code, let us point out the relevant sections.

Section 80, as amended in 2003, is clearly against both unethical conduct and criminal conduct in journalism. The complaint about your reporting on ZABG on September 9 seems to fall under this section.

Sections 86, 88 and 89 are also about ethics and are being enforced. Some of the five complaints against your paper require you to apply some of these sections to answer your complainants but you have up to now ignored them.

The fourth phase was the gazetting of Statutory Instrument 169C of 2002 which made it a requirement for each publisher applying to register a mass media service either to submit a finished in-house code of ethics with his or her application papers or to undertake to work with the MIC to draft an appropriate in-house code of ethics.

Indeed, more than three-quarters of the publishers and aspiring publishers in 2002 did not even know what an in-house code of ethics was. They told us so themselves and we have had to work with them to explain what a code of ethics is and to find experts to assist in the drafting. The result is at least a draft acceptable to both the publisher and the MIC.

This stage four is the most crucial form the point of view of the commission. The major drawback of this approach is that the MIC cannot always determine the pace of the work.

But working with the publishers is important because journalists move from media house to media house and are subjected to varying in-house demands. The publishers are the employers of journalists and they are the ones whose application Form AP1 requires an in-house code of ethics to be attached or a commitment to be made to produce such a code.

In other words, in 2002, the MIC found that journalists talked about ethics in their workshops and associations but the academic discussions had no impact on their work places or on daily practice.

The MIC therefore chose to focus on the employers who up to that time either saw no need for codes of ethics or had no idea what an in-house code of ethics was. The employers and the journalists’ associations would have to help enforce the codes of ethics together.

The fifth stage will be the publication of a volume containing the codes of ethics so far developed and submitted by stakeholders so that readers and those who failed to produce their own drafts may read for themselves the ethical commitments which the responding mass media services have made.

The published document of stakeholders’ submissions will be the basis for further public debate, which must include non-media organizations that represent society at large. The stakeholders’ submissions have been edited and collated for printing. The final stage would then be the publication of a final national code.

The position of the MIC is that each mass media service is ethically accountable in terms of those sections of the Act which contain ethics and in terms of the in-house code which it has lodged with the MIC.

If that code has not been circulated among the media house’s own journalists, then the journalists should approach the MIC.

The incorporation of courses on ethics within journalism training is a separate project. The MIC has visited most of the training institutions and is writing a separate report.

Tafataona P Mahoso,

MIC executive chairman.

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