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Moyo flattering to deceive?


He has dumped his previous combative approach in favour of continuous engagement with the media


INFORMATION, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo is one man the media would love to hate for presiding over possibly the worst draconian media laws in post-independence Zimbabwe.

But soon after his re-appointment to the same ministry seven years on, he has started off by trying to endear himself to the media. He has dumped his previous combative approach in favour of continuous engagement with the media.

Whether Moyo will live up to his word to undo his past wrongs, is the million-dollar question many sceptical Zimbabweans would need to put to the test of time.

The doubt is exacerbated by the fact that Moyo has in the past established himself as unpredictable as a chameleon — changing colours at any time to suit the environment.

Soon after his second appointment to the Information ministry, a ray of hope appeared in the horizon after he has promised to repeal criminal defamation sections of the toxic Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

He has also been publicly claiming that he is keen on the opening-up of airwaves for more radio and television stations and getting rid of prohibitive broadcasting fees.

But should he be trusted this time around?

“These are simply words of intent. People should only celebrate after these promises have been implemented,” Ernest Mudzengi, a media consultant, said.

“Minister Moyo should not just promise to repeal criminal defamation laws, but it should be implemented. What the media should do now is to set benchmarks to what its engagement with Moyo should achieve.

This will allow the people of Zimbabwe to gauge whether the minister is serious.”

Mudzengi said although the new Constitution promises to usher in a new era in the media in Zimbabwe, there was need for the minister to make sure that some supporting Acts are realigned with the new charter to avoid a “give-and-take” scenario.

“As the situation stands, the Constitution gives and the supporting pieces of legislation take away the freedoms,” he said.

Unlike the old Constitution, Section 61 in the new Constitution allows media freedom in the form of “freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information, freedom of artistic expression, scientific research, creativity and academic freedom”.

The new Constitution has also moved a step further in protecting journalists’ sources to encourage free flow of information.

However, the State can use Section 62(4) of the Constitution, which acts as a condition to the provisions of Section 62(1), (2) and (3), to corrode the right to access to information.

It can also use Section 87 and the Second Schedule of the Constitution which deals with public emergencies and the limitations of rights therein.

The Constitution has given very wide and general conditions for the justification for restriction against access to information.

Although not mandatory, the State holds the discretion to restrict access to information on the grounds of interests of public security or professional confidentiality.

Outgoing executive director of the Zimbabwe Voluntary Media Council Takura Zhangazha said: “There is a benevolent and benign attitude by the government to watch the media. Media freedom still remains something that can be enjoyed at the behest of the government of the day and not as a constitutional principle.”

The freedom of access to information provided for in the Constitution can then be denied “in the interest of national security” while government departments use the Official Secrets Act to deny the media the same.

“Government still has the latitude to control the media in the name of legislation and national security or public emergencies,” Zhangazha said.

He said it was sad that the Constitution was vague in defining the parameters of national security or public emergencies.

“Section 86 (3) also gives a list of rights which government cannot curtail and media freedom or freedom of expression is not one of them. This is an intention by the government to retain control of this cornerstone democratic right.”

Section 248 of the Constitution and Section 38 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) create the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).

The ZMC provides for statutory regulation, giving the Zimbabwe Media Council the power to discipline the media.

Sections 64 and 80 of the Act also criminalise journalism.

Mudzengi weighed in: “This is not in tandem with the media freedom that is now guaranteed in Section 61.”

He said there was need to align some Acts so that they were in line with the media freedoms offered in Section 61.

Sections that need to be aligned are the Official Secrets Act, AIPPA, Defence Act, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, censorship laws and how statutory bodies operate, to mention a few.

“I think as long as there are no legislative re-alignments to ensure that all laws are in sync with the new provisions in the new Constitution, media freedom will continue to be at risk because of laws such as AIPPA,” Mudzengi said.

“Laws pertaining to broadcasting should be reviewed so that licensing is done freely. Airwaves should be opened to guarantee diversity, not mere plurality of the same.”

Several journalists and artists have been arrested for publishing “falsehoods”, threats to national security, public safety, inciting violence, malicious injury to one’s reputation, among others, under Aippa and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (CLCRA) Section 31 which government deliberately applied to clamp down on divergent views and dissenting voices.

“Conditions stated in Sections 64 and 80 are not supposed to be considered as criminal offences as is the situation. This criminalisation is greatly affecting journalists,” Mudzengi said.

Section 60 of the Constitution gives every person freedom to express their thoughts, beliefs or religion, privately or publicly, but Sections 33 and 95 of the CLCRA criminalises the same rights.

Mudzengi said the control and appointment of officials of media statutory bodies like Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, the ZMC, among others by government shows that government still had enormous influence over the media.

“The situation is not that good. If we look in the region, other countries are still worse than us with the exception of South Africa and Botswana, but a lot still needs to be done. What we simply need is political will and a favourable legal framework.”

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