The Zimbabwean parliament has relaxed media and security laws following
months of SA-brokered talks between the ruling party and both factions
of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in South Africa,
reports Torby Muturikwa.

The harsh and much-criticised Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) has been watered down.

Four parliamentary bills reforming press, security, broadcasting and electoral laws were unanimously passed by legislators from both the ruling Zanu PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This comes after months of talks
Concessions to the media and security laws came after months of South African brokered talks between the ruling Zanu PF party and the two factions of the MDC.

"They [the amendments] are the things we have campaigned for, and we have secured them and we should go along with them," said Welshman Ncube, the secretary general of one faction of the MDC.

Amendments to the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) will now make it harder for police to ban rallies and demonstrations.

Changes to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) remove the requirement for journalists to obtain press cards.

In terms of the amendments, the government will also reconstitute the Media and Information Commission (MIC) whose name will change to the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

The commission will consist of a chairperson and eight other members appointed by President Robert Mugabe from a list of not fewer than 12 nominees submitted by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

The commissioners will be chosen based on their experience in the media.

The commission will establish a Media Council, which will be responsible for developing and enforcing a code of conduct and ethics to be observed by journalists and mass media services.

The Zimbabwe Media Commission will choose one of its members to chair the Media council.

Two representatives of an association of accredited journalists, nominated by one or more associations of journalists that, in the opinion of the commission, are representative of journalists and appointed by the commission, will be part of the commission.

Other representatives in the council will be from associations of publishers, advertisers or advertising agencies, representatives of mass media trainers, churches, businesspeople, trade unions, women’s groups, youth groups and two lawyers, one practising and another teaching law at a tertiary institution.

A new clause in AIPPA specifies more clearly what privileges accrue to accredited journalists and simplify the procedure of accrediting journalists.

Two more clauses will extend the period of registration of mass media services from two to five years and mitigate the rule that Zimbabweans alone must wholly own or control mass media services.

Amendments to broadcasting law will now see the reconstitution of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, which licences broadcasters. Three of its members will be appointed by the President from a list of six nominees submitted by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

The committee will have a consultative role in the appointment of the other nine members and in the disciplining, suspension or dismissal of members of the board.

Another clause mitigates the rule that Zimbabweans alone must wholly own or control broadcasting services.

Other amendments will regulate the operations of public, commercial and community broadcasters.

Public broadcasters will now be required to provide news and public affairs programming which meet the highest standards of journalism, and which is fair, unbiased, and independent from Government, commercial or other interests.
Under Aippa and the administration of the MIC, dozens of journalists have been arrested and four newspapers shutdown including the largest selling independent daily, The Daily News, while one television station was closed by the BAZ.
Several applications for new radio and televisions were also turned down.