Slow Pace Of Law Reforms Worry Editors

By Sij Ncube

HARARE, November 9, 2015 – ZIMBABWEAN editors, fearing a new wave of media repression, have agreed to petition the government in a bid to fast-track the alignment of laws with the new constitution as pressure mounts on President Robert Mugabe’s administration to roll-out wide-sweeping media reforms ahead of 2018 polls.

Last week the country’s media fraternity was thrown into turmoil after the surprising arrests of three Sunday Mail journalists, Editor Mabasa Sasa, Investigations editor Brian Chitemba and reporter Tinashe Farawo.

But editors drawn from both the public and private media meeting under the auspices of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) in Harare last Friday, unanimously resolved to petition the three arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – over what seems to be the inordinate delays in harmonising laws with the new constitutions.

It was agreed at the editors’ indaba, which included journalists from the state broadcaster, that although the new constitution guaranteed the country’s media several freedoms, including the right for the protection of journalists’  sources, the state still has the liberty to resort to the use of archaic laws which took away these freedoms.

The arrest and detention of Sasa and his two subordinates allegedly over allegations of publishing falsehoods dominated proceedings with delegates pointing out police wanted the journalists to disclose their sources over a story which fingered an unnamed police top brass in the poaching of elephants. Disclosing sources is taboo, delegates said. Philip Muziri, a trained lawyer who works for the Southern Africa Parliament Support Trust, told the gathering there were statutes which contradicted the new constitution.

An estimated 400 laws needed to be realigned with the new constitution.

“But there appears to be no sense of urgency (in harmonising the laws). It appears it is business as usual,” said Muziri, who presented a paper on Role of Parliament under the Constitution and Progress of the Alignment Process.     A few statutes have so far been fast-tracked as part of the alignment process among them the Electoral Amendment Bill HB8, 2011, the National Prosecuting Authority Act, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission HB8, 2014, Criminal Procedure and Evidence Bill HB 2, 2015 but this is still pending in parliament.

Jacqueline Chikakano, a legal officer with the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe, presenting a paper on Media Law Reforms Envisaged in the New Constitution, noted freedom of the media, expression, conscience and access to information were now enshrined in the constitution but was quick to say these rights were not absolute.

“I challenge the editors, the media and journalists to push for the alignment process to move with speed,” said Chikakano, adding that laws which needed reform or re-alignment with the constitution included the Access to Information Protection of Privacy Act, Broadcasting Services Act, and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Commercialisation Act.

There is concern the arrests of the state media journalists could be a harbinger of worse things to befall the media as Zanu (PF) succession battle reached a crescendo and ahead of 2018 elections.

Barnabas Thondhlana, Zinef secretary general, said a petition would be submitted to the executive, parliament and the judiciary as part of measures to push the legislature to fast-track the alignment of laws to the new constitution