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Media groups slam Communications Bill

Ray Matikinye

THE Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), a group of media organisations, together with the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) have said the Interception

of Communications Bill 2006 is intrusive and has no place in a democratic society.

In a submission to the Parliamentary Legal Committee, the MAZ and Zinef said the Bill impinges on individual freedoms and liberties and is therefore unconstitutional.

“The Bill seeks to discard the fundamental rights and freedoms or civil liberties of ordinary citizens, including the right to free communication,” the media groups’ submission says.

The proposed legislation is seen as part of a raft of existing measures that have severely undermined freedom of expression and information in Zimbabwe such as Posa and Aippa.

MAZ comprises the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe), while Zinef groups editors in the independent media.

In their submission, the media bodies contest the constitutionality of sections of the Bill saying they replicate provisions of the Postal and Telecommunications Act that were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003.

“It follows that this Bill is unconstitutional in as far as it violates Section 20 of the Constitution (which safeguards) universally accepted principles of freedom of expression, freedom of information and independence of the media from undue state interference,” the MAZ/Zinef document submitted, to PLC chair Professor Welshman Ncube this week, says.

The media groups said the “measures proposed in the legislation are arbitrary, unfair and disproportionate to the objective of containing serious crime”. The Bill claims to be part of measures to combat crime.

“There clearly is no fresh mischief to be combated in Zimbabwe. Interference with the communications of its citizens is, therefore, patently unnecessary and unreasonable,” they said.

The Bill makes no provision for judicial supervision and provides for judicial intervention after the right has been violated and a loss has occurred, the submission says. Provisions allowing the minister to grant authorisation to intercept information is tantamount to usurpation of judicial authority by the executive in violation of the concept of separation of powers and the checks and balances which form part of that concept, it says.

To compound the issue, there is no provision for review by any other democratically established arm of the state. The traditional safeguards against the negative effects of a search and the traditional protection of privacy have not been incorporated into the legislation.

The submission notes that the Bill reincarnates provisions in the Postal and Telecommunications Act struck down by the Supreme Court by merely shifting responsibility from the President to the Chief of Defence Intelligence or his or her nominee; the Director-General of the President’s department responsible for national security or his or her nominee; the Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police or his or her nominee; and the Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority or his or her nominee.

The submission says the situation is worsened by the fact that there is already in place legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and others that severely restrict democratic space.

“Journalists and other human rights defenders have been arrested, newspapers have been closed and private property has been acquired in circumstances which violate human rights,” the submission says.

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