MOVES by Media, Information and Communication Technology portfolio committee chairperson Settlement Chikwinya to table a Private Member’s Bill to repeal the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) should be applauded.
Chikwinya’s bold move needs the full support of the media, especially now when the nation is edging slowly, but surely, towards an election next year.
There is absolute need for a free media if the elections are to be credible.
Chikwinya’s Bill needs a thorough panel-beating before it is tabled in Parliament and it is incumbent upon journalists, media houses and organisations to assist the MP to come up with a law that would transform the media legislative framework.
At the moment the Bill has retained provisions that are undemocratic and hinder an unfettered Press.
Chikwinya, with the assistance of the media, should purge the Act of provisions which seek to retain the Zimbabwe Media Commission, a Media Council and establish a Media Complaints Committee to police and punish journalists.
These provisions are not in the interests of an unfettered Press. They don’t measure up to international best practice and democracy.
We are worried that nothing significant has been done to repeal Aippa and replace it with two vital proposed laws — the Freedom of Information Act to regulate access to information and privacy, and the Media Practitioners Act to outline procedures for registration of journalists, which should be as simple and informal as possible, and provide for issues of discipline which must be handled by self-regulating bodies.
What is disturbing is that the two MDC formations who are partners in the inclusive government have failed dismally to initiate media reforms. The parties before going into the shaky government had spoken out loudly about media freedom, but seem now to have been consumed by the trappings of power and are behaving like their Zanu PF colleagues.
Quick prospects of a free media in the country remain a mirage because of laws like Aippa, and the draconian Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The closed media space was causing frustration among the people as evidenced by a spate of newsletters available on the streets.
We knew that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince the diehards in Zanu PF to carry out any meaningful media reforms. The diehards have been beneficiaries of a skewed media environment and they would fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo, especially now that we are likely to go to the polls early next year. Freedom of the Press is a threat to Zanu PF diehards who want to use the public media to hoodwink voters.
There is need for all progressive forces to encourage the inclusive government to embark on media reforms to enhance democracy and free political play ahead of the elections. Without a free Press which enables voters to make an informed choice, there won’t be a free election.