The media have every right to set up a council to regulate themselves, writes Loughy Dube, vice-chair of Misa-Zimbabwe, contrary to comments by Zanu-PF's Leo Mugabe who seemed to suggest that the plan to set up a regulatory council in that country would have to wait for an amendment to the law.
Loughy Dube, vice chairperson of Misa-Zimbabwe, writes:
writes for The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zimbabwe would like to set the record straight regarding recent misleading political statements pertaining to the principle of media self-regulation.These statements, which have the danger of misleading and misinforming the public if they are allowed to hold sway, came in the wake of the inaugural convention of the independent Media Council of Zimbabwe (MCZ) held in Harare on January 26, 2007.The convention discussed and scrutinised the proposed, nationally binding Code of Conduct for Zimbabwean journalists as well as the draft Constitution of the MCZ.
One of the speakers during the convention was Honourable Leo Mugabe, House of Assembly member and chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications. In his remarks to the convention, Hon Mugabe seemed to suggest as matter of fact that the launch and success of the envisaged Media Council hinged on an amendment to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). AIPPA was promulgated in 2002 and created a statutory body, the Media and Information Commission (MIC).
He categorically stated that to proceed otherwise would result in a serious confrontation with the MIC, as both bodies would end up performing similar functions. A clear and objective analysis of AIPPA vis-à-vis the functions of the MIC shows that nothing could be further from the truth, as the difference between the statutory body and the proposed independent council is like day and night. MISA-Zimbabwe further notes that the repeal or any changes to AIPPA are not conditional on the launch of the MCZ. There is no law in Zimbabwe that stops the formation of a voluntary body that regulates the operations of the media, hence the wisdom of those that crafted the Banjul Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.
MISA-Zimbabwe is cognizant of the fact that the path to media self-regulation has historically been fraught with bitter struggles between the media industry and the government(s) that believe in a compliant and sycophantic media. MISA-Zimbabwe, however, dismisses statements by Hon Mugabe that it is a political outfit. These statements are meant to divide the media sector, especially on the MCZ project.
When the government promulgated AIPPA in 2002, it defended statutory regulation, saying the media had failed to regulate its own affairs, hence the government had to step in to regulate the media sector. When the media then embarks on a self-regulatory mechanism, it cannot, therefore, be accused of being reactionary and confrontational as alluded by Hon Mugabe. It must be noted that there were no consultations when AIPPA was passed into law.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Charter that creates the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). At its 32nd Ordinary Session, in Banjul, The Gambia, from 17th to 23rd October 2002, the ACHPR adopted a Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which states: Effective self-regulation is the best system of promoting high standards in the media.
In addition, the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press was adopted in 1991 at a UNESCO-sponsored conference. It states that an independent press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation. "Independent" in this context means a press independent from governmental, political or economic control, or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals. The Declaration envisages a scenario where self-regulation creates an environment that is conducive for the promotion of a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.
Article 21 of the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport (2001), signed by all Heads of States in the SADC Region, obliges member states to "encourage the establishment or strengthening of codes of ethics by various sectors of the media through the creation of an enabling environment for the formulation of such frameworks." Encouragement is the opposite of imposition; i.e., using the force of law.
In proposing that AIPPA needed to be amended before the MCZ can be launched, one wonders if Hon Mugabe is aware of the impetus of the cited charters and conventions. Suffice to say, in promulgating AIPPA, the government disregarded instruments it voluntarily signed. Government took a route which is largely ignored by other democracies, a route which we have lived with for five years now – the AIPPA route which regulates the print media and the practice of journalism despite its flagrant violations of the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and in direct contravention of the Banjul Declaration of 2002, the Windhoek Declaration of 1991 and the SADC Protocol of 2001.
For instance, Section 39 (1) (h) of AIPPA empowers the MIC to advise the Minister on the adoption and establishment of standards and codes relating to the operating of mass media. Further, the MIC is empowered to enforce professional and ethical standards in the mass media. These functions do not create "an enabling environment" as envisaged in the SADC Protocol.
Under AIPPA, four newspapers have been closed. No self-regulatory mechanism will descend so hard and vindictively on its own constituency.
The MCZ self-regulatory initiative was initiated by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), an alliance of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) in partnership with the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) and Zimbabwe Association of Editors (ZAE). The inclusion of civil society at all stages of the consultations was an appreciation of the fact that freedom of expression is an inherent right of each individual and not just limited to journalists.
The MCZ is an initiative of the media which stresses on the voluntariness and consensual character of self-regulatory mechanisms. While the current MCZ draft constitution may need to be spruced, it is suggested that effective self-regulation and not statutory regulation is the best way for dealing with complaints against the media when viewed both from the viewpoint of the public and the preservation of freedom of expression.
As a media freedom and freedom of expression lobby group, MISA-Zimbabwe reiterates its commitment to continue working with partners in the media sector and broader civic society towards the attainment of a media self-regulatory body in Zimbabwe.
Vice Chairperson, MISA-Zimbabwe
For further information, contact Zo? Titus, Programme Specialist, Media Freedom Monitoring, MISA, Private Bag 13386 Windhoek, Namibia, tel: +264 61 232 975, fax: +264 61 248 016, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Internet: http://www.misa.org
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