Chikwinya, who chairs parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Media, Information, Communication Technology, presented the so-called Media Freedom and Transparency Bill for close scrutiny before media stakeholders in Harare on Friday.
Chikwinya intends to push through the envisaged law under the Private Members Bill which allows non members of the executive to formulate laws.
The Bill retains the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) while creating the more professional Media Council of Zimbabwe, a voluntary organisation.
Journalists blame the ZMC and its predecessor Media and Information Commission (MIC) for forcing the closure of four private newspapers in the past decade and the continued arrest of some of their colleagues.
The MDC-T lawmaker said the Media Freedom and Transparency Bill shall sanitise the media environment and provide media practitioners with better access to information within public and private entities.
“The Bill seeks to repeal Aippa and create a media environment which is free,” Chikwinya said, “ Under Aippa, we have had journalists who have been criminalised for alleged offences during their tour of duty. So this Bill seeks to decriminalise the work of journalists and actually promote civil proceedings in the event that anyone feels that a journalist would have wronged them.
“This Bill also seeks to enable citizens to discuss national issues freely and to read and hear different opinions in a non threatening environment.
“The Bill seeks to introduce openness and transparency in both public and private bodies while at the same time putting reasonable restraints on media freedom in order to protect legitimate interest such as personal privacy legitimate to the right to a fair trial.”
But media practitioners who attended the workshop criticised the document for its attempt to provide for both state and voluntary regulation at a time the fraternity is fighting to free itself from
Some said the Bill was a very ambitious proposal that seeks to bring a lot of issues affecting the media under one roof while others say the decision to retain the ZMC altogether was another way of bringing back Aippa under different terminology.
Pedzisayi Ruhanya, a journalist and PhD candidate in media and democracy, feels Chikwinya was desperately trying to balance the wishes of Zanu PF, which favours state regulation and those of his party, which advocates voluntary regulation.
“This Bill is trying to balance the views of Zanu PF and MDC, yet it is supposed to govern journalists and the entire media. The views of the media are what are supposed to be emphasised. These are two positions of Zanu PF and MDC that must be disregarded,” said Ruhanya.
Chikwinya conceded the document was not perfect in its current form adding that he was going to take it for “realignment” with the concerns of media practitioners.
He said he is aiming to see the proposed Bill becoming a full law in March next year.
He was optimistic that the Bill was going to receive the support of Zanu PF MPs in spite the current polarisation in the house.