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Zimbabwe Media Commission announces intention to form statutory media complaints body

(IPI/IFEX) - 8 March 2011 - The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has begun the process of setting up a statutory media council, The Zimbabwean reported last week.

Godfrey Majonga of the ZMC, which last year began the work of licensing media, reportedly told a meeting of editors that the ZMC wants to "kick-start" this process, as they have been receiving an increasing number of complaints about media professionalism.

Journalists in Zimbabwe set up a self-regulatory body, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, two years ago. The council works with members of both private and state-owned media, a VMCZ spokesperson told IPI, and has a complaints commission.

The VMCZ has said it will cooperate with the ZMC on this, The Zimbabwean reported.

The planned media council is provided for under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), according to The Zimbabwean. The AIPPA has been widely criticized for, amongst other things, requiring the accreditation of all journalists and media outlets wishing to work in Zimbabwe. The law again came under attack in late 2010, when accreditation and registration fees were hiked by up to 400%, according to the Media Institute for Southern Africa.

The International Press Institute today reaffirms its support for voluntary, self-regulatory mechanisms for the media, which most democracies hold to be the only form of media regulation that does not impinge on press freedom.

According to the 2002 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, "Effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media."

Where public authorities do have regulatory powers over the media, these authorities should "be protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature, including by an appointments process for members which is transparent, allows for public input and is not controlled by any political party," as stated in a 2003 Joint Declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression under the auspices of press freedom group Article 19.

Recently there have been moves toward statutory regulation in other southern African countries, and IPI has joined other international and local organizations in calling for governments to refrain from regulating the press.

In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress has backed away from its rhetoric that called for a statutory media tribunal, a move that was welcomed by the media fraternity there.

In Zambia, members of the non-statutory Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC), formed in 2010, are still in discussions with the government over the issue of regulation.

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