‘Media Bill falls short of expectations of the media industry’- VMCZ

….The ZMC Bill as it is remains undemocratic and a sheer missed opportunity to reform the repressive media environment in Zimbabwe.

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe(VMCZ) has raised concerns on the recently  gazetted  Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Bill saying it falls far  short  of expectations of the media industry.

According to the organization, the ZMC Bill just like AIPPA does not meet the expectations of the media industry and accused government of not factoring in some of the critical recommendations media stakeholders made .

“Just like AIPPA, the gazetted ZMC Bill falls far short of expectations of the media industry.

“Regrettably, the ZMC Bill is at a tangent to proposals and recommendations that were recently put forward and submitted by civil society and other media freedom activists to the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services. None of the key recommendations submitted by civil society and media stakeholders to the ministry were incorporated into the ZMC Bill, ”says the media advocacy organization.

The VMCZ adds that it is ‘gravely concerned to note that the ZMC Bill seeks to retain provisions that criminalise ‘expression and the media profession’ which smacks of bringing the infamous criminal defamation law.

“Section 21 (3) of the Bill, just like in AIPPA, calls for penalties for offences and for contraventions of regulations that will see offenders jailed for ‘periods not exceeding a fine of level 6 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

“The inclusion of this harsh provision is a clear attempt by the government to bring back, through the back door, the criminal defamation offence that was struck off the statutes by the Constitutional Court in 2016. It would be retrogressive if policymakers allow such unconstitutional provisions to be sneaked back into law through the ZMC Bill,” added VMCZ.

According to the media organization that promotes self regulation of the media the ZMC Bill overemphasis state regulation overshadowing the international best practices of self-regulation.

“The Bill strangely further entrenches statutory regulation and ignores the infusion of media-self regulation as it must be noted that self-regulation is internationally recognized as the best form of regulation for the media.

“The ZMC Bill in its current state and through provisions retained from, Aippa, remains undemocratic and a sheer missed opportunity by the government to reform the repressive media environment in Zimbabwe,”.

The   Bill also hands   ‘wide powers to the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services over ZMC, thereby creating room for undue political interference, and compromising the independence of a constitutional body’.

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe is also raising concerns that there is a provision that  violates fundamental media freedoms.

“Equally worrying within the ZMC Bill are provisions that empower the ZMC to seek assistance from the police during the conduct of investigations, in hearings and during an inquiry.

“This provision poses as a challenge and becomes problematic when dealing with media freedoms and freedom of expression issues, as involving police in media freedom and freedom of expression issues would limit the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of the media,”cites VMCZ.

The ZMC Bill once enacted into law will complement the Freedom of Information Act,

a law that is currently still a draft in the form of a Freedom of Information Bill.

Media stakeholders have for a long time yearning for the decriminilisation of the media profession and the repeal of retrogressive AIPPA which has given rise to three legal instruments  the Freedom of   Information Bill, the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and the Protection of Personal Information/Data Protection Bill but so far the two gazzeted bills have  not satisfactory addressed the rot .

It is in this regard that media stakeholders are  still piling pressure on government though parliament for an enabling media environment at a time when the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information,Media and Broadcasting Services is travelling countrywide gathering people’s views about the bill.Media membership organisations under the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe(MAZ) have also sought to simplify the contents of the bill and its implications in order for the public to debate from an informed point of view.