Opinion

ZMC Bill: Maintaining an old repressive status

Opinion

By Marshall Bwanya 

Since coming into office in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government promised a raft of measures as a way of showing that they are a departure from the “old” Robert Mugabe regime.

Among the November promises were media reforms which are meant to free the practice of journalism which was heavily under siege in the country during the time of the late Mugabe.

And as a way of walking the talk, government has gone ahead by coming up with various legislations that are media related which are also going to replace the unpopular Access to Information Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which are seen to be oppressive and retrogressive to the media fraternity.

One of the new legislation that is supposed to bring this change is the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill which is currently under Parliament.

Despite being new and having some positives, the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill has retained some repressive clauses and sections which might instil fear to the media practitioners.

Section 10(3) of the Bill allows the Zimbabwe Media Commission to discreetly hold investigations, hearings and inquiries in the form of closed or public proceedings and what is interesting here is that the commission is given the discretion to decide what evidence may not be admitted in the court of law.

Henceforth the commission may choose to deliberately exclude certain evidence from being submitted in the court of law thereby subverting the course of justice.

There is Section 10 (4) in the Bill which is problematic in that it allows the involving of the police in the investigation or inquiry a development which converts a civil matter into a criminal procedure without the accused having proper representation.

The Bill in Section 10 (8) subordinates the Zimbabwe Media Commission under the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting services and the Minister is given authority to also bar the commission from disclosing certain information in his/her ‘subjective’, opinion that is contrary to public, economic, national and security interests.

There are fears from stakeholders that this provision might affect the smooth operations of the commission as well as put a dent on its independence thereby affecting credibility.

The Zimbabwe Media Commission is one of the independent commissions mentioned in Chapter 12 of the country’s constitution that they should be independent and this is confirmed by Section 235(1) of the constitution which says commissioners are independent and not subject to both the direction and control of anyone.

By failing to respect, or acknowledge this independence, the Bill in Section 10 (8) is, therefore, undermining the country’s constitution and this is despite the fact that Section 2 of the same Bill recognises the constitution as the supreme law of the country.

This, therefore, means the Bill in its current form is compromised in terms of its independence as the commission cannot make important decisions without consulting with the minister.

The other thing is that media practitioners and other stakeholders across the country have called for self-regulatory or core-regulatory (VMCZ and ZMC) such as is the case with lawyers and doctors.

Failure to put term limits for the Zimbabwe Media Commission is also problematic in that it opens up avenues for abuse of power.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on 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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