PROPOSED amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) pose a great danger to press freedom and democratic principles, a coalition of civil s
ociety organisations said this week.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said proposed amendments to Sections 40 and 83 of Aippa violate the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In an Extraordinary Government Gazette published two weeks ago, the government, through the Department of Information, announced its intention to introduce the amendment Bill in parliament for debate.
The Bill seeks to amend Section 40 of the Act, which requires that some members of the Media and Information Commission (MIC) be appointed from nominees of an association of journalists and an association of media houses.
The department, headed by Jonathan Moyo, said that since an association of media houses does not exit, the Bill proposes that nominations be received from either or both such associations.
“The proposal is absurd in that it seeks to deny the existence of the Advertising Media Association (Adma), a body that represents media houses in the country,” said Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in its comments on the Bill. “What Moyo seeks to achieve is to exclude publishers from taking part in matters that affect them. For instance, if the MIC is to make a decision to penalise an errant newspaper, it should have representatives from publishers and journalists for it to be binding.”
Retired Administrative Court president Michael Majuru in October last year ruled that when the MIC refused to register the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, it violated Section 40 because the MIC was improperly constituted. There was no representative of media houses.
The coalition noted that Moyo was seeking to sanitise Section 40 before the Supreme Court ruling in the case involving the government and Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) in which the MIC refused to register the privately-owned company’s two titles.
It was argued that the MIC did not follow provisions of Section 40 when it denied ANZ registration and it did not have a representative of media houses when it refused to register the Daily News and the Daily News On Sunday. The coalition said the amendments were an admission that the MIC did not comply with the provisions of Section 40.
Section 83 of the Act, which prohibits unaccredited or suspended journalists from practising, will be amended to provide a penalty which is presently absent. The Bill proposes that persons who contravene the section be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.
The coalition said the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides in Section 20 of the Bill of Rights for freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with correspondence.
“The minister has successfully made a consistent attack on such freedoms and in the end criminalised the journalism profession. By banning three private newspapers in the space of one year, Moyo has gone further than what the colonial regime of Ian Smith did. He has destroyed our civil liberties with impunity.”