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Fierce battle erupts over new media law

by Staff Reporter
26 Sep 2021 at 10:44hrs | Views
THE Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has come out guns blazing as it accuses professional bodies of trying to usurp its constitutional duties through the proposed Media Practitioners Bill.

Correspondence between Parliament, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry and ZMC obtained by The Standard showed that the authorities are backtracking on commitments on regulation of the industry they made in June.

Parliament's portfolio committee on information, media and broadcasting services between June 9 and 12 organised a workshop on the Media Practioners Bill in Mutare where the government, ZMC and industry appeared to have found each on the need for co-regulation of the local media sector.

This saw bodies such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) contributing to the formulation of the law that aims to foster press freedom.

But the gains made in Mutare appear to be up in smoke as the ZMC and government are now taking a hard line stance.

In comments submitted to Parliament, the ZMC tore the proposed Bill into shreds, saying it was focused merely on the disciplinary framework of the media practitioners, instead of providing for media regulation in broader terms.

The Tafataona Mahoso-led ZMC claimed the proposed Bill was an attempt by media practitioners to seize its powers and push for self-regulatation, which was against the dictates of the constitution.

"The current Bill, in its current form, is a legal nullity as it tries to usurp the mandate of the ZMC as provided for by the constitution," the commission said.

"The principle of co-regulation is not a contested one.

"It is the manner in which it should be provided for in the new law, which remains an issue.

"Media governance goes beyond the mere disciplining of media practitioners.

"It should provide for a whole governance framework for the operation and development of the media in Zimbabwe.

"Disciplining practitioners for professional breaches becomes a mere aspect of the whole framework."

The Mutare workshop had resolved that the ZMC should engage the MAZ to come up with a position paper on the proposed law.
Mahoso on August 18, wrote to clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda saying the Mutare agreement was flawed.

He was responding to a letter from Parliament asking ZMC to submit its report on the Bill.

"The key oral presentation unpacking the Media Practitioners "Bill" used the rhetoric of shared regulation to disguise what was in substance an argument for self-regulation," Mahoso wrote.

"The key presenter in fact advocated for abandoning the established legacy of insistence on alignment and compliance with the constitution in order to push for the enactment of self-regulation disguised as co-regulation.

"The organisations, who pushed for departure from provisions of the constitution on delegation at the June 2021 Mutare workshop used to be the loudest advocates for alignment and compliance with the constitution during all consultations carried out by the ZMC from 2017 to 2021." Mutsvangwa advised Parliament, through a letter that her ministry supported the ZMC's position on the proposed Bill.

"We are pleased to advise you that the position taken by the ministry is in harmony with that of the Zimbabwe Media Commission," Mutsvangwa wrote.

"We arrived at this position after taking cognisance of the ministry‘s responsibility to protect and uphold the constitutional provisions that give the mandate to regulate and develop the media space in Zimbabwe to the Zimbabwe Media Commission."

The government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa commitment to reforms has of late come under scrutiny amid accusations that most of the changes to draconian laws introduced after the coup that toppled Robert Mugabe are cosmetic.

Source - The Standard