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» 04.03.2011 - Zim treason charges for viewing Egypt on TV
» 15.02.2011 - Zimbabweans "missing" after Egypt party
» 27.05.2010 - Zimbabwe's main free newspapers re-licensed
» 16.10.2009 - Zimbabwe's forced marriage collapses?
» 28.09.2009 - Release of Zimbabwean activits signal new beginning
» 12.03.2009 - Bennett released on bail
» 14.01.2009 - AI blames prolonged Zim crisis on AU
» 07.10.2008 - MISA Zimbabwe acknowledges proposed ICT bill

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Human rights | Media

Zim media law getting even harsher

afrol News, 13 June - As the parliament of Zimbabwe passed into law amendments to a controversial media law, media are concerned Zimbabwe has now seen the last of independent press reporting. The state gets even wider authorities to prosecute dissident journalists and media.

On 11 June 2003, the parliament of Zimbabwe passed into law amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The government said that the amendments are intended to correct anomalies and errors that became apparent after the controversial law was signed by President Robert Mugabe in March 2002.

According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the amendments seek among many things to extend the definition of a journalist, mass media service and also the powers of a government appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC).

The passage of the Bill hit a snag in May 2003 as the Parliamentary Legal Committee said it would pass an adverse report on the Bill. The Committee said that 7 sections of the Bill would be unconstitutional if passed into law. The Minister of Justice and the Parliamentary Legal Committee told Parliament in May that one had agreed the Bill would be withdrawn while the concerns of the Committee were addressed.

On 11 June, Parliament sat down to debate the new Amendments to the Amendments Bill on the media law. Although it was reported that the concerns of the Legal Committee had been addressed, MISA-Zimbabwe today noted that the passing of the Bill "does not change much in making the law democratic."

Especially the new section "C" of the amendments passed, outlining unlawful statements, were a source to the media institute. The passed text reads as follows:

Any published statement, which is intentionally, unreasonably, recklessly, maliciously or fraudulently false and either
(1) Threatens the interest of defence, public safety, public order, the economic interests of the state, public morality or public heath or, (2) Is injurious to the reputation, rights and freedoms of other persons will be punished.

MISA-Zimbabwe in a statement noted that this inclusion allowed "a wide berth for the Media and Information Commission and law enforcements agencies to prosecute alleged offenders." There further was no definition of what threatens the economic interests of a country or what public morality is.

- This makes the law vague and subject to abuse, says MISA. MISA-Zimbabwe still argued that this section was not necessary as there was no need to legislate a "journalist's privilege". Penalties under this section have also been altered either to be a fine or imprisonment and not both.

The passed amendments also do away with the Department of Information and Publicity with the intention to have all the board members of the MIC appointed by the Minister. As such journalists' unions still retain the right to nominate three members to the MIC, as already prescribed by the principal act.

The passed amendments prescribe that foreign journalists can be accredited to work in Zimbabwe for a maximum period of 30 days. Depending on the circumstances of each case the Media and Information Commission (MIC) might extend the period. MISA-Zimbabwe however still noted that the discretion remained "with the MIC either to allow a foreign journalist into Zimbabwe or not, as well as to extend his stay. This discretion is subject to abuse."

The media freedom watchdog further had noted "with disappointment" that the definition of a journalist had been extended to mean anyone who "gathers, collects, edits or prepares news stories, materials and information for any service that produces advertisements, the total print or part of the total print of a separate issue or a regular newspaper, magazine or journal, or any publication with a constant name, separate issue of a teletext, the total data or part of the data of any electronically transmitted material, or audio or video recorded programme (whether or not it also disseminates them), whether as an employee of the service or as a freelancer."

- This definition remains vague and open ended, noted MISA. "It is extremely difficult for anyone to establish whether he or she falls within the category. This has implications on matters of accreditation. It is not clear who exactly has to accredit or not. In the same vein the amendments extend the definition of mass media products to include a wide range of publications and information that would not necessarily be defined as mass media in the strict sense of the word."

The law now talks of "the total data, or part of the data of any electronically transmitted material." This would include web pages that are accessible to anyone with the requisite equipment in any part of the world. "The question is," says MISA, "would these need to be registered as well?" This definition would also affect such organisations that distribute information on, for an example, HIV/ AIDS.

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