KADOMA — South Africa Press ombudsman Joe Thloloe has criticised Zimbabwe’s media laws which provide for registration and incarceration of journalists found guilty of breaching their code of ethics.
Report by Blessed Mhlanga / Moses Matenga
Thloloe, who has endured up to 19 years in jail fighting for freedom of expression, was speaking at a Zimbabwe Electoral Commission media workshop that ended here yesterday.
He said penalising journalists in such a way was a violation of freedom of expression, as guaranteed in South Africa’s Constitution, which saw no need to be unnecessarily harsh on scribes.
“Providing penal punishment to journalists will be a violation of freedom of expression which is in the South African constitution,” he said.
“In South Africa, anyone can start and run a newspaper. You can even write something on a piece of paper, photocopy and distribute it freely.”
The Zimbabwean Constitution provides for freedom of expression, but is hindered by repressive laws such as Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and Public Order and Security Act.
Thloloe told journalists that his office had handled Press complaints from the South African Presidency successfully without resorting to costly litigation or imposing penal judgments.
Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of NewsDay, the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard, was the first and only media house in Zimbabwe to introduce the office of a Press ombudsman to deal with public complaints in line with international standards.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Media Commission launched its media council, which, among other duties, is mandated to punish journalists by imposing stiff penalties.
Speaking on media laws, Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) chairman Brian Mangwende agreed with the idea of an ombudsman, saying it served no purpose to criminalise the profession.
“Zinef reiterates that harassing and punishing journalists or closing papers does not wash. There are other remedies of dealing with grievances hence the formation of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe,” said Mangwende.
“Criminalising the profession is archaic and went out with Noah’s Ark long ago.”