MISA raises red flag over new gazetted media bill

… as hopes of media freedom under new dispensation are dampened

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

A local media reforms advocacy organisation has poked holes in the recently government gazetted the Freedom of Information Bill.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in a statement said the bill was regressive and did not adequately capture the recommendations that  media stakeholders had suggested in the previous engagements with government.

“The Bill is regressive when compared to the previous draft version of the Bill shared with and discussed by stakeholders during engagement meetings held by the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services in December 2018 and March 2019.

“In fact, it is a total departure from most of the positions agreed upon between the ministry and media stakeholders,” revealed MISA in a statement issues by  chairperson Golden Maunganidze.

According to MISA, the Bill still has    some remnants of the repelled draconian AIPPA (Access to Information & Protection of Privacy Act).

“Just like AIPPA, the Bill also sets out the scope of limitations on the right to access information.

However, some limitations are not justifiable in an open and democratic society that Zimbabwe aspires to be and one such limitation is the one on access to information on government borrowing,” cites   the media organisation.

MISA  pointed  out   that  disappointing is  ‘Section 3(b) and 5 of the Bill  which seek to cultivate a culture of voluntary disclosure of information by public entities and statutory bodies.

Section 5 of the Bill imposes a duty on such bodies to produce a written information disclosure policy   and the rest of the Bill is silent on the practical steps necessary to enforce or strengthen these voluntary disclosure mechanisms.

The Bill compels public institutions to designate information officers but

states that requests for information may only be in writing, this means that oral

requests for information are not valid and  this restriction on how information may be accessed will unjustifiably inhibit the blind and illiterate from being able to seek information, argues MISA.

AIPPA was   an omnibus law that   dealt   in part with the protection of privacy and Misa insists that   if  the Freedom of Information Bill is  passed into law before a Protection of Personal Information Act or a Data Protection Act is gazetted, this  will create a gap in Zimbabwe’s data protection legislative landscape.

The Mnangagwa-led administration has reiterated its commitment to refine media laws and the concerns by MISA in the Freedom of Information Bill   is likely to dampen the hope media stakeholders and the general citizenry   were carrying with regards to media freedom .