The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), a grouping of several media
organisations, has postponed to the end of May the launch of a
Voluntary Media Council to regulate the operations of the media in that
country, writes Torby Muturikwa.

The eagerly-awaited council had been scheduled to be launched in Harare on World Press Freedom Day this week, May 3, but was postponed at the last minute following sharp differences between the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and other groups.

After six months of nationwide consultative and campaign meetings between publishers, editors and the government, the MAZ announced it was unveiling the council in February 2007.

This was after it had failed to launch the council in October 2006.

But in February, ZUJ gave in to government's demands and deferred the launch to May 3.

However, in the run-up to Press Freedom Day, some members within the ZUJ executive pushed for a further postponement on the grounds that new Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu needed time to go through the draft document.

Ndlovu has publicly backed the harsh media laws which he says are necessary to stop journalists from "peddling lies about the Zimbabwe government".

At an outreach meeting earlier this year, President Robert Mugabe’s nephew, Leo, who heads parliament’s portfolio committee on transport and communications, told journalists not to go ahead with the launch of the media council.

Instead, he said journalists should push for amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

The council is expected to allow Zimbabwe journalists to regulate themselves, rather than being subject to the official Media and Information Commission, which has presided over the closure of four independent papers.

MAZ co-ordinator Abigail Gamanya said the council will now be launched at the end of May to allow submissions on the constitutional amendments to be made.

The MAZ is made up of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) the Editors’ Forum and ZUJ.

Meanwhile, the MIC has banned an independent journalist for a year for allegedly practising without a licence.

On May 2, on the eve of International Press Freedom Day, the MIC removed Nunurai Jena from the list of practising journalists in Zimbabwe.

Jena, from the small town of Chinhoyi, some 115 km west of Harare, began serving his ban on 3 May 2007. The ban runs until March 2008.

The MIC said Jena was banned after he was caught using an expired licence.

Under Aippa, journalists are required to register with the MIC and renew their licences every year.

Jena was also accused of freelancing for various foreign news networks, some of them banned in Zimbabwe. He denied the charges and argued he had submitted an application for the renewal of his licence.

Jena’s accreditation expired on 31 January 2006 and the MIC refused to renew his accreditation, arguing that he had acquired it through fraudulent means.