ZMC bill amendment worries media body

By Albert Nxumalo

The  Media  Alliance of  Zimbabwe  (MAZ) has expressed grave disappointment over amendments of the  Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill saying they are inadequate and fall far short of the expectations of media stakeholders and citizens.

MAZ said Zimbabwe cannot afford to recline back on the reform agenda insisting that only genuine democratic reforms can break the country out of its dark history. 

Government,  under the spotlight,  to  implement  genuine  media reforms,  in December last year through the Ministry  of  Information,  Publicity  and  Broadcasting  Services gazetted  three  amendments,  one  that  seeks  to  clarify  the  reporting requirements  by  the  ZMC  to  the  Executive  as  defined  in  Section  323  of  the Constitution

The other amendment aim is to give effect to co-regulation while another corrects a wording error from the gazetted ZMC Bill. 

“It is disappointing to note that none of the amendments addresses the concerns raised by media stakeholders and citizens,” MAZ said in a statement.

“In essence, the amendment does not in any way address the contentious issues around provisions that criminalise journalism and by extension freedom of expression, the involvement of the police in professional investigations and clauses that compromise the independence of the ZMC, astandard prescribed in the Constitution, among other issues tabled before the Ministry and the  Parliamentary  Portfolio  Committee on  Media”.

Detailing its displeasure, the media body said it  is  further  regrettable  that  government  chose  to  take  a  minimalist  approach  in  giving effect  to  co-regulation  by  merely  extracting  Constitutional  provisions  that  empower the  ZMC  to  delegate  some  of  “its  functions  under  section  249  (1)(e)  and  2  to any regulatory  body  for  media  practitioners  set  up  under  the  law.”  

 “This delegation can be extended  ‘to any other person any other duty, power or function under this (ZMC) Act; expect the power to delegate in terms of this section,” MAZ argued.  

While the provisions appear to be providing the way for the realisation of a co-regulatory framework for the media, MAZ said the vagueness of the provision suggests that the self-regulatory mechanism envisaged in co-regulation will operate at the pleasure of the statutory body.  

“This entrenchment of statutory regulation or token co-regulation goes against the well-documented demands of media stakeholders,  the general views of the citizens and is not in sync with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) Declaration on Freedom of Expression,  which Zimbabwe is party to. 

 “The  Minister and senior government officials have on numerous occasions reiterated that government is in support of co-regulation.     It is thus deplorable that government would miss an opportunity to  “walk the talk”  by enacting provisions that would give effect to co-regulation within the context of the ZMC Bill”.

Media players have for long maintained that co-regulation will decriminalize the profession and allow the media industry to control its professional standards.

Going forward, MAZ appealed to the government and  Parliament to reconsider the amendments and take into cognisance the views expressed by the media and citizens.

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