HomeOpinionLaws must be aligned with the Constitution

Laws must be aligned with the Constitution

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe last week published the 2021 state of the media report, which takes a look at the media landscape and operating environment with regards to freedom of expression, access to information, digital rights, media sustainability and media freedom in Zimbabwe.

Below is an excerpt from the report:

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, following a visit to Zimbabwe in 2019, noted in a subsequent report that Zimbabwe was suffering from political polarisation and poor governance.

The Special Rapporteur noted then, that civic space continued to deteriorate, re-establishing an environment of fear and persecution.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s report came on the backdrop of his visit to Zimbabwe on September 17 – 27, 2019 at the invitation of the Government. The purpose of the visit was to assess the exercise, promotion and protection of the rights under his mandate in a moment of transition following the adoption of the new Constitution in 2013 and the change of leadership in Zimbabwe.

He urged the government to take action to end corruption, and tellingly, to improve the human rights situation and ensure accountability and rule of law to encourage the lifting of “measures” imposed on Zimbabwe.

The Special Rapporteur recommended for the repeal of legislation that is inconsistent with the Constitution particularly that affecting the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

He also said steps should be taken to ensure that all those monitoring assemblies, including journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, are allowed to do so and are protected at all times during assemblies and that violations are duly investigated.

The government was also urged to refrain from introducing restrictions on access to and the use of the internet, including shutdowns.

His observations then came prior to the gazetting of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill at the end of 2021.

If enacted, the PVO Amendment Bill threatens to muzzle the work of civic society and negatively impact on the operating media freedom and freedom of expression and free expression environment ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2023 general elections.

The gazetting of the PVO Amendment Bill also came on the backdrop of Zimbabwe’s slippage in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 media freedom rankings.

Zimbabwe slid in the rankings, falling from 126 to 130.

The downside of these developments should, however, be viewed on the progress made on the access to information front following the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act as well as the marked reduction in the number of media freedom violations in 2021 compared to 2020.

Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution explicitly provides for the right to access to information, freedom of expression and of the media, among other progressive provisions under its Bill of Rights.

In that regard, commendable steps were taken to give effect to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of information through the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act in 2020 in place of the widely discredited Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).

The new information law is a progressive step towards fostering citizens’ right to access to information. Other commendable developments include the licensing of the country’s first-ever community radio stations and ‘private’ commercial television stations.

However, these progressive steps risk being marred by some claw-back provisions in some of the laws such as the Data Protection Act (despite some of its progressive provisions) and the gazetted PVO Amendment Bill.

Further, the Government of Zimbabwe is drafting amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reforms) Act aimed at criminalising engagements between citizens of Zimbabwe and foreign embassies without government approval.

The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on November 16, 2021, made submissions to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on the status of the principles of the proposals to regulate Zimbabwean citizens’ engagement with foreign governments.

In a virtual presentation to the Committee, the Ministry’s Law Officer —  Policy and Legal Research Department, Ms P. Dhokwani, noted that the principles which are set to amend the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act were approved by Cabinet and were now with the drafters.

These two proposed legislative steps have far-reaching impact on the ability of civil society to perform its duties within the borders of Zimbabwe.

In essence, the laws seek to criminalise civil society’s work at a magnitude never witnessed before in the history of Zimbabwe as a solitary state.

  • Way forward
    The  outstanding Broadcasting  Services  Amendment  Bill  should  be  benchmarked  on  the principles  of  the  African  Charter  on  Broadcasting to  secure a  regulatory  framework  that stimulates  the  growth, sustainability and  editorial  independence of  the  broadcasting industry.
  •  Theproposed Zimbabwe Media Practitioners Bill should encompass the media industry’s input into the draft that was compiled by media players through the nationwide consultative processes for effective co-regulation of the media.
  • The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe should ensure that the Media Development Fund is channelled towards the viability and sustainability of community radio stations as they are the heartbeat of development and democracy at community and grassroots levels.
  •  Ensure  diversity  in  the  languages  used  to  disseminate  Covid-19  related  information  to ensure  all  Zimbabweans  are  included  in  discussions  on  the  pandemic  and  other  related developments.  Steps  should  thus  be  taken  to  ensure  daily  Covid-19  updates  are  in  all the official languages of Zimbabwe.
  •  There is a need to escalate training and awareness programmes to familiarise both citizens and public institutions with the Freedom of Information Act and the freedom of information regulations.
  •  As  mentioned  in  our 2020 State  of  the  Media  Report,  the  government  should  seriously consider coming up with a Media Sustainability Bailout Rescue Package.This can be in the form of tax/duty exemptions and moratoriums (over a realistically determined period), on newsprint and other mass media production and distribution equipment.
  •  Laws such as the Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act, Official Secrets Act, sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Interception of Communications Act, among others, should be reviewed and aligned with the Constitution.
  •  Any proposed new laws should be in line with domestic constitutional provisions, regional and international best practices.
  • As Zimbabwe heads towards the elections in 2023,political parties and the police should ensure the safety and security of journalists during campaign rallies and at all times to avert the media freedom violations that contribute to Zimbabwe’s incessant low global media freedom rankings.
  •  Journalists should, and without fail, always strive for  balance and fairness in their reportage and stories.  In  that  regard,  media  professionalism  is  the  very  first  line  of  defence  for journalists as it is at the heart of media credibility and integrity.
  •  Equally, journalists should familiarise themselves with the profession’s safety and security guidelines to minimise the risks that come with their chosen profession.
  • Journalists should avoid taking part in politics if one’s mind is not yet made up as to which of the two,they want to pursue.  Participating  in  political  processes and  returning  to  the newsroom  upon  failure  to  make  it  in  politics  presents serious  ethical  dilemmas  for  the industry.
  •  Policymakers,  consumers,  private  companies,  civil society  organisations  and  Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) should  have  meaningful,  truthful  and  open  conversations  for  purposes  of  addressing Zimbabwe’s high data costs, which are detrimental to citizens’ right to free expression and access to information.
  •  The Zimbabwe  Media  Commission(ZMC)should seriously  consider  revising  the accreditationof journalists  from the  current  one-year  period  towards  a  two –five-year period,  renewable  before the expiry  of  the  accreditation  period  to  safeguard  journalists against being exposed to the dangers that come with usingexpired cards.
  • Further, the  ZMC  should include  in  its accreditation  packagesfor  journalists  clearly markedmedia  jacketsfor  easy  identificationin  addition  to  the  issuance  of accreditation cards. This can be achieved through the utilisation of the Media Development Fund.
  • Misa–Zimbabwe is one of the 11 chapters of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which promotes and defends media freedom and freedom of expression across the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

NewsDay Zimbabwe will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.