VMCZ programmes officer Faith Ndlovu, executive director Loughty Ndlovu and Misa national chairperson Golden Maunganidze were part of the gathering
Journalists, media students and other media practitioners in Masvingo have expressed serious reservations with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Bill which they say would perpetuate the criminalisation of the profession if passed in its current form.
Speaking at a ZMC Bill discussion organised by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) at the Civic Centre last week, participants agreed that the bill sought to maintain the current repressive media regulatory framework albeit in a more salient manner.
“The media should be given room to self-regulate just like what other professions do. We have lawyers, doctors and other professionals running their own affairs through their respective professional bodies. Why not give journalists the same chance as has become international best practice?” said Walter Mswazie of The Chronicle.
Other journalists criticised provisions that the ZMC’s eight commissioners would be appointed by the President in consultation with Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee.
They argued that having leaders of a commission provided for by the national constitution being appointed by political leaders would be detrimental to the commission’s independence and neutrality.
They also criticised provisions that the secretary of the commission, who will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the council, would be appointed by the President in consultation with the ministries of Information and Finance.
“Having the CEO of the commission being answerable to political office diminishes whatever faith that the media would otherwise have in the political independence of the commission. The bill in its entirety is a new AIPPA returning via the back door,” said Theresa Takafuma of TellZim News.
VMCZ executive director Loughty Dube said his organisation’s position was that self-regulation should co-exist with statutory regulation to enable the two systems to complement each other.
“We acknowledge the need for ZMC because it is a body provided for in the supreme law of the land. We are, however, appalled by gross attempts to impose statutory regulation at the expense of self-regulation.
“We are convinced the two systems can exist side by side. Media complaints should be handled firstly by a voluntary body and if the aggrieved parties are not satisfied, they can then appeal with ZMC which would act as an appellant. The simple message we are communicating is that self-regulation is possible and the media are capable of being responsible enough to correct themselves and be accountable. We can find ways of dealing with their own professional challenges just as doctors and lawyers do. Do the police get involved if a doctor is accused of botching a surgical operation or if there are allegation that a lawyer has acted unethically? They are never deregistered by government, but by their own peers using agreed professional codes.
“We are also worried because the bill wants journalists to be jailed for professional mistakes. That is totally unacceptable,” said Dube.
Other contentious provisions of the bill that came under scrutiny include provision that a complainant of alleged media misconduct does not necessarily have to be directly affected by the story. This was interpreted as a ploy to overwhelm the media with complaints, for example, from ruling party supporters unhappy with critical coverage of the President.
Journalists also attacked the provision that the Minister of Information would be able to bar the work of the commission if he/she feels its investigations are not favourable to the ‘national interest’ or ‘state security’. This means the commission would operate at the whim of political office holders and would be stopped dead in its tracks if its investigations are thought to be politically incorrect.