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MISA statement on Zimbabwe Media Commission appointments

(MISA/IFEX) - 13 January 2009 - MISA-Zimbabwe cautiously welcomes the final appointment by the President of commissioners that will serve on the statutory Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).

The appointments come at a time of high expectations for a free, diverse and pluralistic media environment as envisaged under Article 19 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the three major political parties that constitute the inclusive government.

While MISA-Zimbabwe sees the development as a potential vehicle to democratise the media, long shackled by political controls, we strongly believe that only a self-regulating media authority working within a democratic media framework compatible with international instruments on freedom of expression is the only obligatory route to achieving a genuinely free and diverse media environment.

This is particularly so given that the new Commission - whose members are yet to be sworn in - will still operate under the very same repressive legal instruments that have decimated the private media and hindered the proliferation of alternative sources of information. According to Constitutional Amendment No 19, which creates the commission, the ZMC is mandated, among other roles, "to exercise any other functions that may be conferred or imposed on the Commission by or under an Act of Parliament."

Thus, the ZMC could still be used to enforce the repressive provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). This is particularly worrying as it will simply perpetuate the systematic assaults on media freedom and Zimbabweans' basic rights to free expression and information that characterised the last decade.

For instance, despite the January 2008 amendments to AIPPA, the Act still contains obnoxious provisions inimical to media freedom and the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information. Of great concern is the retention of stringent requirements on the accreditation and registration of journalists and media houses, which pose serious threats to free journalistic enterprise and is unjustifiable in a democracy.

The continued existence of AIPPA has seen delays in the return of banned publications such as The Daily News and Daily News on Sunday as well as in the licensing of new players itching to enter the media sector.

MISA-Zimbabwe urges the government to urgently institute comprehensive media reforms that will facilitate the establishment of a transparent and democratic media regulating mechanism to foster and protect diverse media and the free flow of information and access to alternative sources of information.

This will entail the repealing of AIPPA as well as other repressive media laws and their replacement with democratic legislation that is in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Banjul Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.

Otherwise, any other reforms short of this will only be cosmetic and will not address the root cause of the problems plaguing the media and the citizens' right to free expression and information.

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