The chairperson of the Media Council of Zimbabwe (MCZ), Muchadeyi
Masunda, this week said he will soon engage Information and Publicity
minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu to persuade him to appreciate the need for a
voluntary media council, write Bernard Mpofu and Orirando Manwere in The Zimbabwe Independent.

This comes in the wake of the proposed establishment of a statutory Media Council through the passing of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill last month.

The amendment was adopted under the ongoing Sadc-initiated talks between the ruling Zanu PF and opposition MDC. The Bill now awaits presidential assent.

The proposed setting up of the state Media Council has, however, been slammed by journalists who last year formed the MCZ — a voluntary media council — with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, and the Media Monitoring Project.

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Masunda said it was not necessary to have two media councils in Zimbabwe as this would cause confusion among consumers of media products, which the councils sought to serve.

Masunda, a senior lawyer, said while two councils could co-exist, it was up to stakeholders in the media fraternity to decide which one would best serve their interests.

"This voluntary council which I chair is a product of you the journalists. It was set up after wide consultations and we were simply approached to take up positions. It is not ideal to have parallel councils in a democracy," Masunda said. "Ultimately, I hope consumers will be able to appreciate our role, especially through the complaints desk which should expeditiously arbitrate on complaints between those aggrieved and the media houses."

He said MCZ was of the belief that redress could always be reached without resorting to litigation.

"The council also has plans to train and equip journalists with knowledge and tools on various subjects, including ethical issues, to enable them to abide by their own rules. Through these programmes we feel the rest will fall into place and there will be no need for prescribed punitive penalties," Masunda said.

He said journalists throughout the world were for self-regulation of the media as they were opposed to the use of law to punish "criminal defamation" and publication of erroneous information.

These matters, Masunda said, could be adequately remedied by the use of civil law of defamation.

Masunda said he would soon meet Ndlovu and "take him through the rationale behind the voluntary council".

In a separate interview, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president Mathew Takaona said the history of media regulation in countries like Tanzania showed that self-regulatory councils are more effective than statutory ones.

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