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‘Align Broadcasting Act to Constitution’

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BY VARAIDZO MUDEWAIRI/KUDAKWASHE TAGWIREYI
GOVERNMENT has been urged to amend the Broadcasting Services Act to align it to the Constitution.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) and the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) said this at a recent workshop in Gweru where they also insisted that government should engage stakeholders for input before enacting the provisions.

The Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), which is the principal legislation regulating the country’s broadcasting sector, was enacted in 2001, but there have been proposals for its amendment.

Misa Zimbabwe, Zacras and MAZ said the amendments should be in line with the provisions of the Constitution to allow for freedom of expression.

“It is hoped the resultant broadcasting law and regulatory framework will be in line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the African Charter on Broadcasting and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information and African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, among other instruments that set democratic principles and standards on regulation,” the Misa statement  read.

In their submission, the three organisations said there was need to reform the broadcasting regulatory framework because the current legislation vested excessive powers in the Information minister to appoint the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) board and to influence its functions and operations.

“It is our considered view that these powers threaten the independence of BAZ, a threat that goes against democratic principles of broadcasting regulation,” they said.

There was also consensus by civic society organisations to drop provisions that seek to regulate social media because their implementation posed potential threats of infringing rights to freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy.

The provisions also allow government to play an oversight role on users of websites and social media from a broadcasting perspective.

The media CSOs applauded the consultative processes in law development and encouraged stakeholder engagement as it enhances participation and strengthens democracy.

“All members said the existing law did not spell out a timeframe in which the regulatory authority calls for licences, this resulted in some licence categories such as those for community radios and television stations not being issued decades after the enactment of BSA. The amendments under discussion introduce predictability in the application for licences, which now compels the regulator to call and grant licences at least once a year,” the statement added.

The proposed amendments, if passed into law, could broaden the field of public broadcasting services beyond State broadcaster, ZBC, and transform ZBC through either amendment of the ZBC Commercialisation Act, or the introduction of new public service broadcasting.

Meanwhile, at a United Nations (UN) workshop for journalists on developmental reporting, which was held yesterday in Mutare, Information and Publicity ministry secretary Nick Mangwana said reporting on developmental issues could only be possible if the country’s media landscape allowed free-flow and access to information.

He said enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, which repealed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, was a major landmark as it would grant public access to information.

“The welfare of journalists is of paramount importance as they play an integral role in the dissemination of information on developmental projects using various platforms, but most importantly moving in tandem with  the technological innovations that continuously evolve,” Mangwana said.

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