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Media under fresh threats

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The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has threatened to set up a media council to censure “errant journalists”, a move media lobby groups have described as a fresh attempt to gag the media.

Addressing media stakeholders in Kwekwe on Wednesday, ZMC chairperson Godfrey Majonga said the council, to be set up as early as November 30, would have the power to get journalists prosecuted, suspend or to deregister them and their media houses.

“Powers of the Media Council as provided by the Act include the following when a breach has been made in the case of a journalist: cautioning the journalist, referring the matter for prosecution, suspending for a specific period not exceeding three months the accreditation of the journalist or deleting his or her name from the roll of journalists,” Majonga said.

He also warned media houses risked prosecution or suspension if they contravened the regulations.
Media, Information and Publicity deputy minister Murisi Zwizwai, however, said the ZMC did not have the absolute powers to unilaterally set up such a council.

“The idea of a statutory council is a compromise. Our belief is a voluntary council which is a trend in the region where professionals set up self-regulatory bodies,” Zwizwai said.

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) executive director Takura Zhangazha said they would not recognise the ZMC-proposed council.

“AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Private Act) is an undemocratic media law and we don’t support a council set up under AIPPA and this is shared by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe and our members in the VMCZ,” he said. We will not participate in the council as we are an independent body and we have a separate code of conduct.

“We don’t support this because it criminalises the profession,” said Zhangazha.

Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chapter advocacy officer Thabani Moyo concurred: “We won’t support the entrenchment of statutory regulation of the media.”

Media organisations have voiced concerns against the setting-up of a statutory council, saying it would stifle freedom of expression. Majonga, who was accompanied by fellow commissioner Matthew Takaona, ruled out the review of punitive annual accreditation fees levied on media houses and journalists.

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