ZMC‘s role under the microscope… as media stakeholders call for co-regulation of the sector

By  Tafadzwa Muranganwa.

HARARE – THE Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC)’s role of promoting access to information , freedom of the media and privacy came under the spotlight with media stakeholders pushing for clearly refined media laws.

This was discussed at a Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe)-organised roundtable media reforms meeting on Tuesday on the theme  ‘Access to Information and the media, Broadcasting sector realities, The Cyberlaws and the media’.

According to media law expert Jacqueline Chikakano, the media regulatory body has blighted one of its core role of promoting access to information, freedom  of media and privacy by focusing much   on   superintending over media operations and conduct.

“There are various roles that are provided in the constitution which the Zimbabwe Media Commission can do like for example encouraging access  to information, freedom of the media and privacy  but the commission has been putting much energy on regulating the conduct and operation of the  media ,”cited Chikakano.

The media law expert said it is because of this that there is the need   for the co-regulation of the media which will mean clear apportionment of roles in media laws or formal recognition of self-regulatory bodies .

“The above scenario gives the justification of co-regulation which should brought clear apportionment of the functions of the ZMC through specific media laws and there should be a formal recognition of a self-regulatory body which should be widely accepted and subscribed,” added Chikakano.

But Faith Ndlovu  programmes manager at Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), a self-regulatory body, said while the call for a formally recognised regulatory body is noble there is the need for mechanisms for its autonomy.

“While I am agreeable to a self-regulatory council there is the need for safeguards for the independence of the council,” cautioned Ndlovu.

Misa Zimbabwe legal and ICT  officer Kuda Hove  also weighed in  concerning  the flaws  within the Access to Information  and Protection of  Privacy Act (AIPPA) which created the Zimbabwe Media Commission(ZMC).

“AIPPA only allows access to information from public entities and government institutions but does not speak to information that many be of public interest which could be under privately owned companies and such a flaw is in direct contravention to the provision in the constitution under Section 61 and 62 which allows access to any information of public interest,” argued Hove.

Deliberations on internet governance took the centre stage especially coming after the much criticised internet shutdown that was experienced during the recent stay away.

The Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forum(ZIGF) a multi-stakeholder forum for public policy dialogue on issues of Internet Governance)chairman Cade Zvavanjanja  diplomatically revealed that as an organisation they will  convene a meeting to make a review of the internet shutdown which could have  infringed upon some of  the  internet  values  in ‘the internet we want’ coined at last year’s annual stakeholders meeting.

According to Ministry of ICT, Postal and Telecommunications Services official Mr Joseph Madya the internet shut down was necessary and that government will soon engage organisations like ZIGF to advise its stakeholders on ‘responsible internet use’.

Assurances which are  now the norm with the current government, were made by Dr Ivanhoe Gurira,  Director of International Communication Services in  the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services that the government will as soon as in March come up with proposed media bills; Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill, Freedom of Information Bill, Data/Information Protection Bill and Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, which will be tabled before Parliament for debate in readiness for being enacted into law.

Chris Mhike, a journalist cum lawyer queried why government has left the secretariat of ZMC to operate without a board  for a very long time.

Mr Madya intimated that delays could have been caused by plans to merge the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) ZMC and POTRAZ which are at an advanced stage.

The media landscape in Zimbabwe  suffers  from a polarised media, partisan state media and archaic  media laws and there has been efforts by the President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa-led government to  address this though media stakeholders are pushing for urgency  after experiencing false starts over the years.