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Media challenges criminal defamation law

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THE Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) yesterday resolved that media houses and practitioners should challenge the constitutionality of the country’s criminal defamation laws as they stifled freedom of the Press.

Paidamoyo Muzulu/Charles Laiton

The resolution was passed during a Zinef-organised breakfast meeting in Harare.

The meeting in the capital was attended by most media houses and media organisations such as Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe and Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe.

“The media fraternity should look into ways to challenge the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws in the light of the new constitutional provisions on media freedom,” Zinef said.

The meeting was held in the context of rising civil and criminal defamation lawsuits in the courts despite the country adopting a new Constitution that recognises for the first time media and Press freedom.

Some of the laws that still contain sections that criminalise defamation are the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The meeting noted that Zimbabwe’s judiciary had over the years noted that defamation laws were being abused to stifle media freedoms, but did not move on to rule the laws unconstitutional.

“It remains imperative that the media should challenge the constitutionality of the defamation laws before the Constitutional Court so that once and for all we have an unambiguous position on the matter,” Zinef said.

The meeting further looked at the high defamation damages demanded by injured parties at the courts, saying the amounts were not related to the economic reality prevailing in the country.

Said Zinef: “The laws should be reviewed to put a cap on the amount of damages a party can claim, not the present circumstances where some of the damages may force media houses to wind down if they are awarded.”

This came as three staffers from the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe stable, publishers of the Daily News, appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court yesterday charged with criminal defamation.

Daily News Editor Stanley Gama, reporter Fungi Kwaramba and the company’s representative Zweli Sibanda were not asked to plead when they appeared before Harare provincial magistrate Douglas Chikwekwe, who remanded them out of custody to May 15 for trial.

Gama and Kwaramba were arrested last month following publication of a series of articles alleged to be defamatory to the complainant, Kamal Khalfan, an Omani national resident in Zimbabwe.

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