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MISA publishes position on inclusion of media freedoms in draft constitution

(MISA/IFEX) - MISA-Zimbabwe welcomes the inclusion of media freedom and the right to access to information as captured in the first constitutional draft published in The Herald on 9 February 2012. Chapter 4 of the draft outlines the declaration of rights which includes freedom of expression and the media.

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MISA-Zimbabwe position

MISA-Zimbabwe is encouraged by this paradigm shift in the proposed draft constitution as it explicitly guarantees not only media freedom and access to information, but also protects journalists and their sources of information. The draft Bill of Rights captures the requisite ingredients necessary for the flourishing of independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

This is a vast improvement compared with the current constitution which does not explicitly provide for freedom of the media and access to information. However, section 13.15, which provides for the establishment of the Media Commission, posits contradictions to the spirit and letter of media freedom and access to information.

The commission, for example, retains the powers to “take disciplinary action against journalists and other persons employed in the press news media or broadcasting who are found to have breached the law or any code of conduct applicable to them.” In a democracy, the duty of a media regulator is not to 'discipline' journalists or media houses but to secure an environment that promotes free media activity.

In addition, the section also seeks to entrench statutory regulation while at the same time recognising the need for self-regulation. The Commission, itself a statutory body, is given the powers to “encourage self-regulation of the press and other media communication, in preference to control by the state or any agency of the state.” This leaves the principle of self-regulation at the discretion of the Commission instead of guaranteeing it as a fundamental ingredient for nurturing media freedom as stipulated by the Banjul Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa and other regional and international instruments on freedom of expression.

Therefore it will be highly commendable for the provision of self regulation to be captured under the Bill of Rights rather than as a privilege of the commission as is provided for under the draft constitution.

In our humble opinion, the state has no business regulating the print media. The best practice in the region and the world over is that the media have professional mechanisms for regulating themselves. If the media commission is to be established, then it should be for the sole purpose of regulating the broadcasting sector's finite frequency spectrum.

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