Banning foreign papers is draconian

February 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

http://www.newsday.co.zw
Draconian measures, especially in the media industry, are common in this country, but the move by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) to ban foreign newspapers took us by surprise.
The ZMC, which was principally set up to liberate a media that had taken so much battering from the previous administration, appears to be fighting the same purpose it was established for.

The commission said it had appealed to authorities to bar affected papers from entrance into and circulation within Zimbabwe.

According to ZMC chairperson Godfrey Majonga, the drastic move became unavoidable because the papers had ignored repeated appeals to register to operate a foreign mass media service.

He said the papers were being punished for not paying statutory fees and not allowing people aggrieved by their publications recourse to justice.

This is certainly a throwback to the days of Jonathan Moyo whose reign as Information minister earned Zimbabwe its place among the pariah states of this world.

Government used the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) to throw inquisitive foreign correspondents out of the country.

Private newspapers were also closed down for failing to register with ZMCs predecessor, the Media and Information Commission (MIC).

Hundreds of journalists suddenly found themselves without jobs and some elected to migrate to become economic refugees in many different countries.

Therefore, the setting-up of the ZMC after the formation of the inclusive government in 2009 came as a relief to most journalists and Zimbabweans yearning for the restoration of freedom of expression.

The expectation was that the ZMC would become an instrument of dismantling the tools of oppression built with the help of Aippa.

Besides licensing new publications, the commission has not done much in this regard.

This is one of the reasons newspapers such as The Sunday Times, Mail&Guardian, The Zimbabwean and several other publications are still relevant in plugging the information gap.

The statutory fees remain too steep in an economy like Zimbabwes and few investors have the means to sustain newspapers.

Instead of seeking to silence foreign newspapers, the ZMC should be working out strategies that will ensure the survival of the few publications that are playing a crucial role in giving Zimbabweans alternative information and creating an environment that will inspire more players to enter the local industry.

The commission should be directing its energies at pushing for the repeal of Aippa instead of using it to ban newspapers. There is now little difference between it and the MIC.

ZMCs move is also curious coming at a time when President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party are drumming up support for an unpopular election this year.

There is need to ensure that ZMC does what it was established for: to liberate the media environment, not serve the narrow needs of a redundant political order.

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