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MISA appeals to incoming government to prioritise transformation of ZBC into independent public service broadcaster

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is a 15 September 2008 MISA statement:

Transformation of ZBC imperative for true democratic transition in Zimbabwe and related media issues in Zimbabwe

MISA-Zimbabwe welcomes the signing of the agreement by Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations as a development that should usher in a new era of tolerance and diversity of views underpinned by fundamental reforms that respect the right to freedom of expression and access to information by citizens.

The media and most critically radio and television because of their wider reach, play a critical role in creating the required platform for national dialogue that will input into the envisaged era of national healing, stability, harmony, reconciliation and economic development.

MISA-Zimbabwe is therefore appealing to the incoming inclusive government to prioritise the transformation of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) from a state broadcaster into a truly independent public service broadcaster (PBS) that serves the citizens objectively and impartially as a matter of extreme urgency.

The role of the PBS is that of enhancing the national collective responsibility of engaging the people of Zimbabwe to actively participate in national discourse by freely expressing, imparting and accessing information through the broadcaster irrespective of one's political affiliation, religion, ethnicity, colour or creed.

The African Charter on Broadcasting (ACB), which calls for a three-tier system of broadcasting that includes public service, commercial and community broadcasting can be used as a benchmark for the enactment of the enabling legislation and policy formulation. The Charter stipulates that:

a. all formal powers in the areas of broadcast and telecommunications regulation should be exercised by public authorities protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature, by, among other things, an appointments process for members which is open, transparent, involves the participation of civil society, and is not controlled by any particular political party.
b. all state and government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into PSBs, that are accountable to all strata of the people as represented by an independent board, and that serve the overall public interest, avoiding one-sided reporting and programming in regard to religion, political belief, culture, race and gender.
c. PSBs should, like broadcasting and telecommunications regulators, be governed by bodies which are protected against interference.
d. the public service mandate of PSBs should be clearly defined.
e. the editorial independence of PSBs should be legally guaranteed.
f. PSBs should be adequately funded in a manner that protects them from arbitrary interference with their budgets.

ZBC should therefore be run by an independent board which is representative of civil society, the media, churches, labour and the business community among others. This will cushion the institution from falling into the helms of political and economic interests that compromise its public service mandate.

MISA-Zimbabwe remains committed to playing its contributive role towards that eventuality and reiterates its position that an enabling environment can only be created through:

1. An immediate cessation of the arrest, harassment and torture of all journalists and media houses reporting on Zimbabwe.

2. The granting of permission to all media houses, (both foreign and local) to cover the political situation as it unfolds.

3. The suspension and subsequent repealing of all repressive legislation that targets the media, and in particular, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Interception of Communications Act. In their place, all media policy should be guided by the principles outlined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Windhoek Declaration and the African Charter on Broadcasting.

4. An immediate conversion of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation from a state broadcaster into a public broadcaster under the guidelines outlined in the African Charter on Broadcasting.

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