THE Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) has been described as the leading weapon of government and the ruling Zanu PF party in their ongoing campaign t
o stifle independent media, an international press freedom organisation, Article 19, has said in its latest report.
The global press freedom watchdog in its report titled Aippa: Two Years On, said the media law’s trail of destruction witnessed a plethora of arrests, intimidation, harassment and a raft of measures of control.
The report, compiled in conjunction with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Zimbabwe, states that the media law has been successful in undermining freedom of expression, promoting government control over the independent media and giving repressive elements tools of intimidation.
Article 19 said Aippa was placing journalists and journalism in Zimbabwe under the effective control of Information minister Jonathan Moyo. The report slammed the requirement that journalists must accredit with the Media and Information Commission (MIC). Media houses are also required to register with the MIC before they start operating.
“The system of licensing for journalists has recently been constitutionally affirmed by the Supreme Court, and it is likely to play an increasing role in directly targeting those who dare to criticise the ruling party and the government,” the report said.
The organisation said Aippa created a “minefield for journalists” that gave rise to the constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court by the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, the publishers of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday. The Supreme Court made a ruling refusing to give the Daily News audience on the basis that they had approached the court with “dirty hands” as the publisher should have first registered in terms of Aippa.
“Unfortunately the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe appears to have largely reneged on its obligation to uphold the constitution, producing rulings that clearly flout established understandings of the scope of the right to freedom of expression that have led to very serious breaches of this right in practice,” the report said.
Article 19 slammed some of the offences under Aippa and the Public Order and Security Act such as writing false statements or writing a story where there is a real likelihood that it can be false, or engendering feelings of hatred or hostility towards the president. The report said an unprecedented number of journalists had been arrested under Aippa.
“Dozens of journalists have suffered direct legal harassment, mostly in the form of short-term detentions and this has had an impact on the profession as a whole,” the report said. The report also noted that since the closure of the Daily News, the people of Zimbabwe have been subjected to unlimited doses of state propaganda and hate messages. There are virtually no alternative views that are broadcast by the state media.
“The likelihood of the Daily News returning to the streets in the foreseeable future seems remote,” the report said.
Article 19 said the closing down of space for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe was part of a clear strategy. It said the whole framework of repressive legislation – the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), Posa and Aippa – had been carefully crafted to achieve precisely these ends.
“Cynically named, Aippa does anything but guarantee access to information,” the report said.
“Its limited access provisions are almost entirely undermined by a broad system of exclusions and exceptions. The vast bulk of its provisions deal not with access to information but with control of the media.”
Article 19 said Aippa, along with related legislation such as Posa and the BSA, breach the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under international law in a number of key ways. The report states that the legislation fails to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of the State for example in preserving national security and public order, and the rights to freedom of expression and democracy. It also said the registration and accreditation systems were “illegitimate”.