BY Phyllis Mbanje /Farai Matiashe
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Zimbabwe has cautiously welcomed steps taken by the government through three draft Bills to shore up commitment and pledges to implement the long-overdue media law and policy reforms.
In a statement to mark today’s World Press Freedom Day, Misa-Zimbabwe chairperson Golden Maunganidze said the envisaged reforms should not be “piece-meal, hurried and nebulous, but extensive and underpinned by democratic values and best practices”.
“The process cannot end with the repealing of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (through the Freedom of Information Bill), Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and Data Protection Bill,” he said.
Misa-Zimbabwe said a range of other laws whose provisions infringe on free expression, media freedom and access to information such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Interception of Communications Act, Official Secrets Act and Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act also needed to be relooked at.
“The obtaining situation demands wide consultations and active citizen participation, moreso when the relevant Bills are subjected to public hearings and scrutiny. Parliament should fulfil its oversight role with a sense of greater national responsibility,” Maunganidze said.
“Parliamentarians should, therefore, be well-versed and knowledgeable on the importance of the relevant regional and international instruments and constitutional provisions in entrenching democracy.”
Panos Institute Southern Africa urged media houses and media practitioners to position themselves to become conduits of information that advances democracy.
Director of the regional media organisation, Lilian Saka Kiefer said the theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day commemorations Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation brings to fore the role of the media in advancing democracy, peace and reconciliation.
“At a time when there has been a proliferation of disinformation through fake news and false news, the need for the media to be more responsible cannot be overemphasised.
“Panos is aware of the numerous challenges that the media face in carrying out its duties. These include financial, technical and human resources constraints, which hinder the media from effectively informing and educating citizens on important development issues, such as participation in democratic processes. We are also aware that some stakeholders have made it their hobby to infringe on the media’s freedom to seek and disseminate information to the public,” she said.
Kiefer said the challenges have caused some media houses to either scale down or completely shut down, condemning many journalists and other media workers to unemployment. A number of media houses and practitioners have been threatened, suspended, arrested, convicted, imprisoned, fined or censored.
Misa-Zimbabwe criticised telecommunications companies for hiking data tariffs by more than 100%, saying the adjustments were unjustifiable.
“These recent increases ignore the fact that even before the official devaluation in February, internet service providers and mobile network providers had already implemented several data cost increases again in the name of coping with rising inflation and service delivery costs,” Misa-Zimbabwe said.
“According to howmuch.net, a gigabyte of data costs US$70 in Zimbabwe. This figure does not take into consideration the official inter-bank exchange rate. The actual average cost of mobile data in United States dollar terms is around US$15 to US$20, which translates to between ZWL$45 to ZWL$70, depending on the value of the exchange rate used. Local internet service providers and mobile network operators have capitalised on this same confusion to continuously and unjustifiably increase data costs.”