Bernard Mpofu/Orirando Manwere
THE chairperson of the Media Council of Zimbabwe (MCZ), Muchadeyi Masunda, this week said he will soon engage Information and Publicity mi
nister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu to persuade him to appreciate the need for a voluntary media council to represent the interests of the journalism profession and publishing industry in the country.
This comes in the wake of the proposed establishment of a statutory Media Council through the passing of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill last month.
The amendment was adopted under the ongoing Sadc-initiated talks between the ruling Zanu PF and opposition MDC. The Bill now awaits presidential assent.
The proposed setting up of the state Media Council has, however, been slammed by journalists who last year formed the MCZ — a voluntary media council — with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, and the Media Monitoring Project.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Masunda said it was not necessary to have two media councils in Zimbabwe as this would cause confusion among consumers of media products, which the councils sought to serve.
Masunda, a senior lawyer, said while two councils could co-exist, it was up to stakeholders in the media fraternity to decide which one would best serve their interests.
“This voluntary council which I chair is a product of you the journalists. It was set up after wide consultations and we were simply approached to take up positions. It is not ideal to have parallel councils in a democracy,” Masunda said. “Ultimately, I hope consumers will be able to appreciate our role, especially through the complaints desk which should expeditiously arbitrate on complaints between those aggrieved and the media houses.”
He said MCZ was of the belief that redress could always be reached without resorting to litigation.
“The council also has plans to train and equip journalists with knowledge and tools on various subjects, including ethical issues, to enable them to abide by their own rules. Through these programmes we feel the rest will fall into place and there will be no need for prescribed punitive penalties,” Masunda said.
He said journalists throughout the world were for self-regulation of the media as they were opposed to the use of law to punish “criminal defamation” and publication of erroneous information.
These matters, Masunda said, could be adequately remedied by the use of civil law of defamation.
Masunda said he would soon meet Ndlovu and “take him through the rationale behind the voluntary council”.
In a separate interview, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president Mathew Takaona said the history of media regulation in countries like Tanzania showed that self-regulatory councils are more effective than statutory ones.
“History has it that statutory bodies fall away in the process, they are politically manipulated and therefore people look at them as political organs rather than professional bodies policing the media industry,” said Takaona.
He said voluntary media councils operate on the basis of peer review mechanism and were credible.
Takaona said ZUJ and other stakeholders in the media were not consulted on the Aippa amendments and had since submitted a letter of complaint to the negotiating team of Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube (MDC), and Nicholas Goche and Patrick Chinamasa (Zanu PF).
MDC-Mutambara formation secretary-general Ncube said the amendments to the media law reflected his party’s willingness to promote media freedom.
“The fact that a compromise was reached with a party that held the position of maintaining the status quo clearly shows how determined we are in liberalising the media,” said Ncube. “We moved them (Zanu PF) to a position where they had to consider our views.”
Biti, the secretary-general for the Morgan Tsvangirai faction, said while his party supported a self-regulatory council, an ideal statutory council would operate under the same lines as that of other professional bodies in the country.
“Our ideal position is to have a voluntary media conduct and ethics council,” said Biti. “However, it does not mean that a council ceases to be self-regulatory when it is born out of an Act of Parliament. The Law Society of Zimbabwe is an example of a reputable voluntary professional council brought about by an Act of Parliament.”
In an earlier press statement issued on the media law amendments, Masunda said any system of regulation established under the widely discredited Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) would be tainted by the way the law has been applied in the past.
“There is no need at all for the state to intervene in this area. Like other professionals, media practitioners should be left to regulate themselves by enforcing a code of ethical conduct,” he said.
The recent amendments to Aippa will see the Media and Information Commission renamed the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).
The chairperson and members of the new commission would be appointed by the president from nominees made by a parliamentary committee. ZMC will then appoint members of the statutory MC.