The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), met Tuesday with Bulawayo residents to discuss the recently gazetted, Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Bill, one of the proposed laws to repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Gazetted on August 9, 2019, the ZMC Bill seeks to give effect to sections 61, 248 and 249 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on the freedom of information and functions of the ZMC.
Addressing residents at a meeting coordinated by Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), VMCZ programmes officer, Faith Ndlovu, highlighted some key issues contained in the bill that include the broader definition of the media to include the internet, definition of media practitioners, the proposed functions of the ZMC and other related factors.
“Some of the sticking issues in the bill include the independence of ZMC, the interference of the minister in the operations of the commission, the involvement of the police in the investigations as well as a prison sentence for journalists,” said Ndlovu.
According to the bill, ZMC will be accountable to the Minister of Information while police officers will be part of investigations when journalists are brought before the commission.
The bill also provides for the imprisonment of journalists for a period of six months, should the commission find them to be wanting.
“Why should police officers be involved in the investigations,” queried a resident.
“This is a clear indication that this commission will be controlled by the government and therefore not independent.”
Another resident condemned the proposed imprisonment of journalists, arguing that would suppress the freedom and access to information.
“The imprisonment of journalists is unacceptable in modern-day society because that will reduce reporters into stooges of the government who will not report anything that authorities do not like as they fear being arrested,” she said.
While the Parliament is yet to embark on public consultations on the bill, residents at the meeting said they were tired of being consulted as a formality.
“These people (Parliament) come here to consult us when they already have their position. Most of the things that we tell them are not incorporated, into final laws.
However, the VMCZ urged residents never to give up on engaging government on the basis that earlier engagement has not produced satisfying fruits.
“You do not give up on farming because last year there was a drought,” said Innocent Kurwa, VMCZ Bulawayo Complaints Committee Provincial adjudicator.