Deal Raises Hope For More Media Freedom

THE power-sharing deal signed last week by President Robert Mugabe and leaders of the two formations of the MDC has raised a spectre of hope that the new government will open up media space in the country by licensing closed newspapers and new radio and television stations.

 

Media players said they were also expecting repressive media laws like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) to be repealed.

According to the agreement signed by Mugabe, Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai, the inclusive government will recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression and the role of the media in a multi-party democracy.

The agreement noted that despite the provisions of the BSA, no licences have been issued to private broadcasters.

The government under Mugabe’s rule has maintained tight control of the media.

Using Aippa, the government closed several newspapers, among them the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, the Tribune and the Weekly Times.

But under the inclusive government deal, the newspapers may bounce back.

The parties agreed to ensure that all applications for private radio and television stations and newspapers under the BSA and Aippa are processed immediately.

The deal further stipulated that “all Zimbabwean nationals including those currently working for or running external radios stations be encouraged to make applications for broadcasting licences, in Zimbabwe, in terms of the law”.

The three parties pledged to take steps to make the public media objective and provide balanced reporting to all political parties.

Misa-Zimbabwe in response to the agreement appealed to the incoming government to prioritise the transformation of ZBC from a state broadcaster into a public service broadcaster (PBS).

“The role of the PBS is that of enhancing the national collective responsibility of engaging the people of Zimbabwe to actively participate in national discourse by freely expressing, imparting and accessing information through the broadcaster irrespective of one’s political affiliation, religion, ethnicity, colour or creed,” Misa-Zimbabwe said.

It said the African Charter on Broadcasting, which calls for a three-tier system of broadcasting that includes public service, commercial and community broadcasting, can be used as a benchmark for the enactment of the enabling legislation and policy formulation.

The charter stipulates that regulation in broadcasting and telecommunications should be exercised by public authorities protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature.

It also states that government-controlled broadcasters should be transformed into PSBs, that are accountable to the people as represented by an independent board that serves the overall public interest.

Misa-Zimbabwe said ZBC should therefore be run by an independent board which is representative of civil society, the media, churches, labour and the business community, among others.

The media watchdog said this would cushion the institution from falling into the hands of political and economic interests that compromise its public service mandate.

By Loughty Dube

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