We welcome findings and recommendations of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology that there should be a complete overhaul of the media law regime in the country.
Contents of the report by the committee released this week might appear banal because they are not new.
But the fact that the committee repeated them this week reminds us that the issue is still a critical item on the country’s political agenda.
It remains an outstanding issue that politicians are keen to talk about when it is opportune to do so, but have failed to step up to the plate and push for legislation that can reform the media environment in the country.
The raft of measures required to cleanse the statutes of repressive media laws are well documented and these were again aptly captured in the parliamentary committee’s report.
These include punitive provisions in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
These have been used to arrest and detain journalists accused of publishing falsehoods. The report also notes that Aippa has remained a misnomer as it does not adequately provide for access to information.
In fact, this part of the law has remained largely untested.
The tragedy for media reform in the country is not just the absence of political will, but that the fight to liberalise the sector has largely remained centred around media organisations and civic groups.
It has lacked input from the general public. This has resulted in the repressive media laws being seen as measures against media practitioners while in essence the bad laws we have on our statutes militate against information.
These are laws which have been designed to close the democratic space and the Zanu PF side of the inclusive government is happy with the status quo. It guarantees control.
It is therefore not surprising that the party will always defend the shape and delivery of State-run media institutions in both print and electronic media.
These are critical instruments in upholding the Zanu PF hegemony in the inclusive government.
The State media, especially the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), has become contested territory for parties in the unity government.
The rigidity of Zanu PF on the calls to reform ZBC is reflective of the party’s general resistance to reforming the media.
The real test of the party’s commitment to media reform can only be demonstrated in its willingness to break the ZBC monopoly in the electronic media.
This will show Zanu PF’s willingness to share that space by giving alternative voices the platform to communicate.
We do not see that happening soon because it requires a paradigm shift in the way the party perceives power.
Zanu PF further demonstrated its perception of power when last year President Robert Mugabe transferred the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) mandate from the MDC-T Nelson Chamisa’s ICTs Ministry to the Transport Ministry, headed by Zanu PF’s Nicholas Goche.
This dramatised the fierce contestation within the coalition government around the character of reform in the key sectors of broadcasting, telephony and new media.
It asserted Zanu PF’s poisonous dominance in the sector.
This is a state of affairs that is least likely to change because of assertive pressure from partners in the inclusive government. It appears the MDCs’ commitment to media reform today is a shrill effort; a far cry from the pre-GNU era. The public needs to be invited in this fight for media reform.
Communities must have a say in crafting the policies that shape the media system. We have a large portion of Zimbabweans who have potty-trained to accept the current bankrupt system that stifles the need for diverse sources of news, information and viewpoints.
The public should reject the notion that our bad laws make better media. Far from it; if we want better media, we need better media policies.
That means we need you!