ZIMBABWEâ€™S media industry is capable and ready to self-regulate without the use of governmentâ€™s restrictive and oppressive legislation, analysts have said.
The analysts said there was urgent need to abrogate legislation that stifle media freedom, among them the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), the Interception of Communications Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
They argued that there were â€œmore than enoughâ€ laws governing the operations of the media and that the industry needed self-regulation not more regulation.
The global political agreement (GPA) signed by the countryâ€™s three major parties last September, the analysts argued, gives Zimbabwe the opportunity to embark on media reforms that would result in the mushrooming of both print and electronic media houses.
Under the GPA, the inclusive government shall ensure the immediate processing by the appropriate authorities of all applications by media houses for registration in terms of both the BSA and Aippa.
The agreement also stated that steps should be taken to ensure that the public media provides balanced and fair coverage to all political parties and that both the private and public media refrain from using abusive language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred or that unfairly undermines political parties and other organisations.
The media analysts said self-regulation objectives must satisfy the demands of all-stakeholders â€” the media and their publics.
Matthew Takaona, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president, said the setting up of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) in June 2007 â€” which is spearheading self-regulation â€” indicates the readiness of the industry to play its part.
â€œThe industry is ready to embark on self-regulation and we should be given the chance to prove that,â€ Takaona said. â€œThe machinery to monitor self-regulation is in place. The setting up of the VMCZ is a testimony that we are ready for the task.â€
Takaona said government and other stakeholders should not worry that under self-regulation professional media standards would be compromised because the VMCZ would enforce ethical standards in the industry.
â€œThe VMCZ should instill unquestionable confidence in government, the public and the media practitioners.
We can have a mixed bag on the board, but the bulk of the members should be professionals who understand the media operations,â€ Takaona said.
He added that all stakeholders, including government, should subscribe to self-regulation.
The VMCZ said it had since come up with a code of conduct for journalists that should be buttressed by sound editorial guidelines or stylebooks, as they are called.
â€œThe stakeholders within the media who conceived the VMCZ, namely the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, Misa-Zimbabwe, Zinef, publishers, civil society and the churches, drew up a code of conduct that will be adopted by all media organisations that endorse the principle of self-regulation,â€ the council said.
The VMCZ said the inclusive government must pass legislation that encompasses an institutional culture of self-regulation within both the print and broadcast media.
â€œIf supported by open-minded politicians, media owners, editors, reporters and civil society, the code of conduct will go a long way in promoting high professional standards in the noble profession of journalism,â€ VMCZ said.
Takoana said the VMCZ in handling complaints should show impartiality.
â€œWhen stakeholders realise that there is a high level of impartiality in handling complaints, be they from government or the public, it would be respected,â€ said Takaona.
Â But he said there was a â€œdegree of frustrationâ€ in the inclusive government about the unprofessional conduct of journalists.
Zimbabweâ€™s press freedom record has come under severe local and international scrutiny following the forced closure of several media outlets.
The chairman of the Parliamentary portfolio committee for Media Information Communication and Information Technology, Gift Chimanikire, on Saturday said there was genuine need for media reforms in Zimbabwe.
â€œItâ€™s my view that there is real need for reforms in the media. This is one of the tasks facing my committee. Zimbabwe has the right to have a free media space,â€ he said.
Tawana Khupe of Wits University in South Africa said although it was a general perception that the existing media laws were oppressive, there were sections that were good.
â€œItâ€™s my view that current media laws in Zimbabwe are a bit restrictive. But there are some sections which are good for media operations and people turn a blind eye to them,â€ Khupe said. He, however, said calls for self-regulation and reforms were genuine.
â€œStakeholders should come to a consensus and agree that media reforms are long overdue. But the reforms should be carried out in a sober manner as, like I said, there are good sections of Aippa that should be retained,â€ Khupe said. Â
Media practitioners said the fact that this yearâ€™s celebrations passed with no journalist been arrested or harassed indicates a shifting government stance.
Andy Moyse, the co-coordinator of Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, said although reforms were needed his fear was that â€œsome form of Aippaâ€ would remain.
He said the airwaves should be tightly monitored as they were â€œa finite resource unlike the print media where people who can afford to run the business should be allowed to operateâ€.
Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Jameson Timba told journalists in Bulawayo on Saturday that he was not in favour of laws that limit freedom of expression.
He said he took an oath to uphold the laws of this country and granting of freedom of expression and the press to the citizens remains one of the unfinished businesses of the liberation struggle.
BY NQOBILE BHEBHE