This is a letter sent to parliament by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in response to the passage of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) Amendment Bill this week.
WE acknowledge and welcome the fact that Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change have at last seen the need to engage and seriously dialogue on issues affecting our country.
We are encouraged that the two parties have found time to sit down and look at contentious laws that have a detrimental effect to our democratic aspirations and general development of Zimbabwe.
As a professional and trade union body representing 98% of practising journalists in Zimbabwe, we are also encouraged to realise that both sides of Parliament have now publicly acknowledged the flaws in Aippa and have closely looked at the law and made recommendations for amendments.
We however, are extremely disturbed by the fact that none of the negotiators saw it fit to consult stakeholders in order to come up with amendments that are owned rather than imposed on the media industry. We realise that some of the information which the negotiators were given in respect to the situation in the industry was certainly coloured to meet certain ends.
We are encouraged that the period for newspaper licence renewal may move from two to five years but still we don’t see any reason why we should keep on our statutes a section of law that will hold the industry and investors at ransom. We urge that once a licence is granted, it must stay as it is for investors in other sectors of the economy.
We have also looked at the proposal to establish another statutory media regulatory body and we want to appeal to the parties involved to have a serious reconsideration of this. Statutory regulation of the media has never worked in any democratic society.
Statutory regulation of the media is actually anti-democratic. In fact in Africa, south of the Sahara, Zimbabwe is the only country moving in this direction. Uganda has for the past 10 or so years tried to insist with statutory regulation but their story has been one of dismal failure.
No one, including the Ugandan government has any confidence in the project. For seven years, the Uganda Media Council received just three complaints from the public. Compare that with the successful self regulatory Media Council of Tanzania which is the envy of the world. It receives at least 24 complaints every month. Very senior government ministers including the Prime Minister have used the Tanzanian Media Council to complain against the media.
Today, media houses in Uganda have launched their own self-regulatory body.
We also wish to remind honourable members of Parliament that Zimbabwe has subscribed to a number of international conventions that are against statutory regulation of the media. It is important to note that Zimbabwe is one of the countries that founded the famous 1991 Windhoek Declaration which among other things upholds media diversity, pluralism and independence. Media independence is not possible if government regulates the media through statutes.
We also note the Banjul Declaration of 2002 of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of the African commission on Human and People’s Rights which states that “effective self regulation is the best system of promoting high standards in the media”.
May I also remind you that the media, out of its own volition and consistent with the spirit of the principles that Zimbabwe subscribe to, undertook a three-year project to establish the Media Council of Zimbabwe. Contrary to sentiments from certain sections, the self-regulatory body was established after wide consultations that involved every single newsroom in the country, every single media house, every single editor, the civil society, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communication, the Ministry of Information and Publicity, representatives of different political parties to include the MDC and Zanu (PF) in every province, the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum which represents private media editors, the Zimbabwe Association of Editors, which represents all state media editors.
All these parties endorsed the idea of a self-regulatory body. We have correspondences to this effect from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee which we engaged on numerous occasions and indeed afforded them an opportunity to
share the Tanzanian experience with an expert from that country. The Ministry of Information and publicity was the first to be approached at the time of the late Dr Tichaona Jokonya and we worked with them on the project until the time of its launch.
A constitution of the Media Council of Zimbabwe was drafted and endorsed by virtually all parties and the Parliamentary Committee and the Ministry of Information had inputs into this. A code of conduct is in place and this was also endorsed by all journalists and stakeholders. Elections were held and a board put in place and the secretariat with an executive secretary will be in place before the end of the year.
There has therefore been massive work to this project and it is a tragedy for a new project to be formulated without benefiting from the experiences of the other. The inclusion of the media council in the amendments is an acknowledgement of our efforts to establish a media council in the country.
It is also important to note that media councils throughout the world are based on consensus building, understanding and respect. An imposed regulatory body in the
media will find itself shunned and alone.
We therefore kindly ask for Parliament to afford the industry to make an input into the amendments before it. Otherwise we will have to go back again to the drawing board.
The spirit in these negotiations has been that the ruling party and the opposition have found each other; we urge that this extends to finding the people as well.