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Foreign newspapers instructed to register with media commission, face possible ban

(MISA/IFEX) - Foreign newspapers circulating in Zimbabwe risk being banned if they fail to register with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) under the terms of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

The ZMC is a statutory body that registers and licenses media houses and journalists working in Zimbabwe, which is contrary to the principles of media self-regulation stipulated in the Banjul Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.

Media outlets that could be affected include "The Sunday Times", "Mail and Guardian", "Business Day" and "Financial Mail", which are published in South Africa, as well as "The Zimbabwean" and "Zimbabwean on Sunday", which are published by the United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean journalist Wilf Mbanga.

ZMC chairperson Godfrey Majonga said the publications should register in Zimbabwe as soon as possible. "We will use the police to confiscate all copies until the newspapers abide by what we want," said Majonga, on 26 August 2011. "They are supposed to remit 0.01 percent of their earnings to the ZMC if they are operating in Zimbabwe. They are printed outside the country, so don't import newsprint or create employment."

Under the repressive AIPPA, the minister of information has absolute discretion to exempt from registration all mass media service providers that are generally prohibited from owning media organizations in Zimbabwe.

MISA-Zimbabwe is of the opinion that this threatening move will have a negative impact on the right of citizens to access diverse information as it will increase the cover prices of foreign newspapers at a time when Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends meet. The newspapers in question will become a luxury that only the elite will have access to, thus depriving the general populace of the right to make informed choices and decisions on matters that affect their daily lives.

MISA-Zimbabwe therefore urges the ZMC and the minister responsible for this issue to take into consideration the peculiar situation that Zimbabwean citizens face regarding access to information by ensuring that the policies and resolutions they come up with promote the emergence of an environment in which citizens have increased rather than diminished access to diverse sources of information.

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