‘New Media Bill should decriminalise journalism’

MEDIA law expert Chris Mhike has said a Media Practitioners Bill would be ideal to push forward the idea of a co-regulatory framework for the media and to avoid criminalisation of journalism.


Mhike said this recently in Gweru during a workshop for MPs from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information, which scrutinised media Bills that will soon be brought before Parliament for crafting. These include the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill, Access of Information Bill and the Broadcasting Services Bill.

Section 22 of the ZMC Bill will water-down the provision whish used to allow the ZMC to delegate its regulatory functions to a registered media regulatory body.

“The ZMC Bill is not substantive on the duties of the regulatory body and (section 22) is the most critical part of the Bill and MPs must interrogate it,” Mhike said.

“Clause 10 (4) of the ZMC Bill also says the commission may request assistance of the police during investigations or hearings or an enquiry when there is breach of media ethics, but this provision is problematic because it makes the process criminal in nature, yet proceedings of a media commission should be civil in nature.”
Mhike suggested that complaints on the media must be dealt with by a self-regulatory body first, and if the complainant is not satisfied, appeals can then be taken to ZMC and thereafter the courts.

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Loughty Dube said the law should establish co-regulation of the media and ensure the media also have a self-regulatory body.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Prince Dubeko Sibanda said: “That regulatory body should be set up by law and it might take long to craft a law for a self-regulatory body.”

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe law expert Kuda Hove said section 249 (2) of the Constitution stipulated that an Act of Parliament may confer power on ZMC to conduct investigations and to regulate the media, but he said there was need of an Act of Parliament to create a self-regulatory body.
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe programmes manager Nigel Nyamutumbu said it was imperative to have laws that improve the operating environment for journalists.

He said the current media laws had done little to de-criminalise journalism and to licence new radio stations.
“Regrettably, very little progress has been registered with regards to improvement of the operating environment, and in the implementation of the outstanding problem areas. The few said commendable improvements include the licencing of new local commercial radio stations, the de-criminalisation of defamation, and the inclusion of media freedom provisions in the current Constitution. Positive and laudable as these recently developments may be, these certainly do not constitute sufficient progress,” Nyamutumbu said.

Mhike also said the ZMC Bill had other undesirable clauses like section 12, which says if one insults a commissioner, the ZMC could cause that person to be detained, with section 14 (2) further stating that the imprisonment could be for six months.

“All this is draconian and borrowed from the Commissions of Enquiries Act and it is not proper,” he said.

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