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Proposed changes to problematic legislation will not advance freedom of expression, says MISA

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is an abridged MISA press release:

Proposed bills to amend media laws gazetted

On December 14 2007, the Zimbabwean government published proposed amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA).

In its analysis, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe has come to the conclusion that the proposed amendment Bills contained in the extraordinary gazette reflect no serious intentions on the part of government to democratise the laws in question, dwelling instead on inconsequential issues which will not advance basic freedoms such as the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and freedom of assembly and association.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill proposes to make changes to those parts of AIPPA dealing with media regulation and accreditation of journalists without, among other issues, addressing the right to access information held by public bodies.

Under the Bill the Media and Information Commission (MIC) will be reconstituted as the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). (. . . )

The functions of the ZMC are stated as "to uphold and develop the freedom of the press", as well as "to promote and enforce good practice and ethics in the press, print and electronic media, and broadcasting" and ensuring that the people of Zimbabwe have "equitable and wide access to information". The Commission retains the functions of registering mass media and news agencies, accrediting journalists, investigating complaints against media persons and services and reviewing decisions of public bodies regarding access to information.

It also proposes the establishment of a media council, appointed by the ZMC, which will be chaired by a member of the Commission. . . . The Media Council will work with the Media Commission in developing and enforcing a code of conduct and ethics to be observed by journalists and mass media services.

The Media Council will, if so required by the Commission, follow up complaints against mass media services and journalists, whether accredited or not. In the event of breach of the code the Council will recommend a penalty for imposition by the Commission. Penalties include monetary penalties, payment of the expenses incurred by Council and Commission, suspension of accreditation [suspension from practice for an unaccredited journalist], cancellation of mass media service registration and publication of apologies or corrections in the case of "injurious allegations". (. . . )

Registration may still be refused for institutions previously operating without being registered. Renewal may be refused only if a mass media service has been convicted of "abuse of freedom of expression", has failed to notify the Commission of changes in its registered particulars, or has failed to publish a correction of harmful untruthful information published by it.

The new Section 78 lists the privileges of accredited journalists, including access to Parliament and public bodies, attendance at national events and public events, and making audio and photographic recordings of such events. Unaccredited journalists will not enjoy the privileges listed and will be barred from full-time employment by mass media services and news agencies operating in Zimbabwe. (. . . )

Meanwhile, the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill comes up with a new section which provides for the reconstitution of the present Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). . .

In the event that any group, council or the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders fails or refuses to submit any nomination upon being requested to do so by the Minister, the Bill mandates the President to proceed to appoint the members of BAZ. It, however, does not specify the criteria of those whom the President will have the prerogative to appoint. (. . . )

For the full press release, see: http://www.misa.org/cgi-bin/viewnews.cgi?category=2&id=1197906276

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