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New constitution must espouse press freedom

THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Zimbabwe joins an increasing number of voices calling for a people-driven consultative process to revamp the constitution of Zimbabwe as opposed to t

he government’s piece-meal approach on what is obviously a serious issue of national concern.

It is Misa-Zimbabwe’s view that the public hearings being conducted by the Parliamentary Legal Committee are at best ad hoc and will not be representative of the wishes of the Zimbabwean masses without the inclusion of all Zimbabweans, interest groups and civic society organisations.

The issue of constitutional reforms is one that deserves collective discourse through a transparent, all-encompassing and independent commission, which will be better-placed to receive the views of Zimbabweans without fear or favour. This will entail revisiting the contents of the rejected draft constitution of 2000 as well as concerns raised by civic society organisations during the 2000 process which resulted in the referendum rejection of the draft constitution.

By revisiting the rejected document, the government will demonstrate that it is willing to respect and embrace the democratic aspirations of its citizens through a people-driven and people-owned process.

This process should culminate in a justiciable Bill of Rights that will secure and entrench our basic rights and freedoms in conformity with international standards and deliver the killer punch against draconian laws such as Aippa and Posa.

In saying this Misa-Zimbabwe is firmly guided by the universally recognised position that an unfettered media is the sine quo non to the enjoyment of freedom of expression as it fosters a culture of accountability, transparency and good governance.

Misa-Zimbabwe is cognisant of the fact that Section 20 of Zimbabwe’s Lancaster House-negotiated constitution does not specifically guarantee freedom of the press, a void that the Supreme Court noted in 2003 when it upheld Aippa to be constitutional.

The right to freedom of expression and inevitably that of the press is a fundamental right without which all other freedoms will be illusory – difficult to attain and express.

As a freedom of expression advocacy and lobby group, Misa-Zimbabwe, therefore, insists that a new democratic constitution should include a constitutional guarantee that expressly recognises and protects freedom of the press.

The current process is anaemic and heavily flawed as it falls far too short of meeting the democratic aspirations and expectations of the people of Zimbabwe.

The issue of the Bill of Rights, viewed against the backdrop of the tremendous executive powers vested in the head of state, is key to a democratic constitution which respects and protects freedom of speech, media freedom, free conscience and thought.

Short of that, Misa-Zimbabwe is of the strong view that the government is putting the cart before the horse by embarking on a process that the people of Zimbabwe will not be proud to be associated with especially as it comes on the back of the rejection of the 2000 draft document. We reiterate that constitutional reform is too important an issue to be left to one political party simply because it commands a majority in parliament.



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