Govt concerned by “unfair criticism” of Freedom of Information Bill

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

The government says some criticism being levelled against the Freedom of Information Bill are not fair and urged stakeholders in the media to wait for the other two media Bills to effectively measure the genuineness of the new administration on media reforms

Various stakeholders and media experts have labelled the new Bill which is expected to replace Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) as nothing short of window dressing.

However, speaking during a Media and Broadcast Conference organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa(MISA-Zimbabwe), director of international communication services in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Ivanhoe Gurira said while government accepts criticism over the some of it is unwarranted

“Since the gazetting of the Freedom of Information Bill, we are following with interest, the reactions of stakeholders and note the somewhat premature dismay at the contents of the Bill.

“Some concerns are set to be addressed by the other two bills, Protection of Personal Information Bill and Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and there is the need to note that some are not law issues but rather policy issues,” he said.

Gurira added that the gazetting of the bill is the first step towards exposing it to wide scrutiny and urged stakeholders to lobby legislators for their intended amendments.

“We believe the gazetting of the bill is the first step to expose it to wide scrutiny and I also urge stakeholders to lobby Members of Parliament for the inclusion of interests that stakeholders may have,” he said.

According to the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR) projects coordinator, Aminata Chatira-Ruwodo stakeholders also need to exploit public hearings on the Bill to input their submissions.

“There is still recourse for media stakeholders through public hearings for them to ensure their concerns are addressed hence the need to mobilise within the sector for such hearings,” she said.

However, Media Centre Zimbabwe director Earnest Mudzengi queried the rationale of consultations that were held with media stakeholders before the crafting of the Bill when their views were eventually side-lined.

“My concern is why we got involved in the consultations when most of the fundamental submissions we made were excluded and whether it is prudent to now wait for public hearings.

“I think our submissions should have taken precedence,” said Mudzengi.

According to legal watchdog Veritas the Freedom of Information Bill has little to do with freedom of expression and deals almost entirely with access to information, which is guaranteed by section 62 of the Constitution; clause 3 of the Bill even states that its objective is “to give effect to the right of access to information in accordance with the Constitution”.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to be the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network as news editor for their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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