Zim risks international backlash over shoddy media reforms

By   Staff Writer

A top Zimbabwean media lawyer  believes that failure by the government to implement democratic media reforms will mean continued demonisation by the international community.

Former journalist now lawyer Chris Mhike was speaking at a MISA Zimbabwe workshop held in Bulawayo recently.

“Zimbabwe risks continued demonization by the international community as a country that does not respect media rights if it fails to implement democratic media law reforms.

“A good law is one that captures the aspirations of those affected by that law of which the media is one such stakeholder including the public at large,” Mhike said.

He also expressed concern that some of the inputs by the media and civil society had not been included in the now gazetted Freedom of Information Bill as part of the processes of repealing the condemned Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

Mhike outlined areas of concern, deficiencies and shortcomings as well as some of the positive provisions contained in the gazetted Freedom of Information Bill.

He also briefed participants on the provisions of the Draft Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and Draft Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill. He said the 20% cap on foreign investment in the broadcasting sector as proposed under the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill undermines media growth and development.

The Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill also has aspects that criminalise the practice of journalism. “We need to ensure that criminalisation of the media profession is eliminated,” said Mhike.

He urged editors to create spaces in their publications to allow for enriching discussions and debates on the proposed laws. Meanwhile, earlier on the same day, MISA Zimbabwe held a Know Your Rights workshop for Bulawayo-based journalists to sensitise them on their rights in the context of the Constitution, existing laws, regulations and the difference between civil and criminal law.

MISA Zimbabwe’s Legal Officer, Kuda Hove, familiarised participants with the organisation’s emergency response tools such as the MISA Zimbabwe Hotline, MISA Zimbabwe JournoSOS App and MISA Zimbabwe Panic Button.

The media landscape in Zimbabwe has not changed much as journalists continue to face harassment in some instances for example Bulawayo journalist and film-maker Zenzele Ndebele  was hauled before courts on flimsy charges of possessing weapons.