Home » General » Realign Media Laws to Address Legislative Confusion [press release]

Since the adoption of the new constitution of Zimbabwe more than a year ago, media rights experts say that there is still no urgency in aligning the country’s legislative framework with the supreme charter.

As a consequence, laws that were crafted under the old constitutional dispensation continue to be implemented disregarding the democratic principles and human rights contained in the new constitution. Such principles are the guarantee of media freedom, promotion and protection of freedom of expression, and access to information.

While MISA-Zimbabwe notes with cautious optimism the work that is being done by the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI), the old legislative framework remains in place posing threats to the same rights the new constitution seeks to promote and protect.

This legislative disjuncture has been underscored by arrests and harassment of at least four journalists this year already under Zimbabwe’s harsh media laws. These include the arrest of Daily News Editor, Stanley Gama, and reporter Fungai Kwaramba under criminal defamation laws the conviction of provincial community newspaper publisher James Muonwa under AIPPA in April 2014 and the raiding of community radio initiatives, Radio Dialogue and Radio Kwelaz in April and June 2014 respectively, under suspicions they were in violation of the Broadcasting Services Act.

In addition, law enforcement agents have used old laws to bar marches and gatherings by media practitioners, civil society organisations and members of the public. Several citizens have also fallen foul of existing laws while exercising their right to freedom of expression through online platforms. The old media regulatory framework continues to be used to license aspiring media owners, including private broadcasters.

It is MISA-Zimbabwe’s hope that the IMPI process will culminate in progressive recommendations in addressing the legislative discord in the exercise of freedom of expression and that in turn, government urgently expedites the ongoing process of aligning the country’s media laws with the constitution.

It is only through an unambiguous and precise legislative framework that Zimbabweans can fully realise their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression, privacy of their communication, access to information and media freedom.

It is against this reality that the statement by Information Minister Jonathan Moyo on 3 July 2014 that the new constitution takes precedence over other pieces of legislation in regulating the media space – sending a positive message – it has caused more confusion and exposes seeming disharmony within government and state institutions in interpreting and implementing provisions of the new constitution. (Moyo was addressing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services in Harare).

Earlier, while addressing a civil society meeting on the constitution hosted by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in June 2014, Deputy Justice Minister Fortune Chasi appeared to defend the continued use of old laws arguing this was provided for in the new constitution. He cited Schedule Six Paragraph 10 of the new constitution.

It states: “Subject to this Schedule, all existing laws continue in force but must be construed in conformity with this Constitution”.

Although Moyo insisted during the same parliamentary address that the problem is not with the law but practice, it is MISA-Zimbabwe’s considered view that as long as there is no urgent holistic review of the legislative framework in accordance with the new constitution, the implementation of the constitution will remain mired in confusion and subject to individual interpretation of the law.

This creates legislative chaos whereby those holding public office including law enforcement agents can easily resort to the old constitutional dispensation and use myriad instruments to curtail citizens’ liberties, including their right to freedom of expression, when called to account or when threatened by media and public scrutiny.

Source : Media Institute of Southern Africa