ANALYSTS have condemned a proposed amendment by Media and Information Commission (MIC) chairperson Tafataona Mahoso seeking to tighten the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
Appearing before the Parliamentary Por
tifolio Committee on Transport and Communications recently, Mahoso called for the regulation of distributors of foreign publications to avoid having “a planeload of subversive material being dumped on the country’s streets on the eve of an election”.
“It is essential that we should regulate both the publishers and the distributors,” he said.
“Those distributors who import foreign periodicals should indicate where they are procuring such periodicals.”
The committee indicated that they would soon be recalling Mahoso to hear his views on other proposed amendments by other interested parties.
Observers last week expressed fears that Mahoso’s proposed amendment was aimed at censoring publications such as The Zimbabwean, published in Britain, South Africa’s Sunday Times and the Mail & Guardian — all weeklies that have carried reports critical of government policies.
They added that the move would result in the reduction of independent publications in the country.
Mathew Takaona, the president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said the move would isolate the people of Zimbabwe from the rest of the world.
“We are surprised by the proposal.
The world is now a global village and you cannot isolate Zimbabweans from the rest of the international community by regulating the distribution of media products,” Takaona said.
“Government should allow citizens access to unfettered information. People should read all the information and make up their own minds,” he said.
Takaona said the proposal would create a dilemma for international visitors and to get round it journals from all over the world may need to be registered for purposes of screening which he said is unrealistic.
“The market should be allowed to make a determination.
If people want it, they will buy it, if they do not want it they won’t,” Takaona added.
Human rights and media lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said it was surprising for Mahoso to make such a proposal when the government told the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights that it would be relaxing the draconian legislation.
She said that the move may result in the disappearance of independent international publications from Zimbabwe.
“Regulating distributors may mean refusing distribution. Where do we draw the line?” wondered Mtetwa. She added:
“One hopes that Mahoso was not speaking on behalf of the government otherwise it would mean that the government went to the African Commission and told an untruth.”
The president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe Joseph James also condemned Mahoso’s proposals saying they were not necessary in a global village.
Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe’s assistant advocacy coordinator Dumisani Gandhi said Mahoso’s proposal would affect the people’s capacity to make informed decisions.
“I think he has a sinister intention. When others are campaigning that Aippa be repealed or amended to meet international norms and standards, he is in fact tightening it,” said Gandhi.
He added that freedom of expression should go beyond borders.
“The papers that would be targeted were giving an alternative source of information.
The other side is necessary for people to make informed choices and decisions,” he said.