Failure to implement media reforms worrisome
While we have witnessed the registration of new newspapers like NewsDay, nothing significant has happened to free the airwaves. Two national radio licences have so far been awarded to organisations perceived to be aligned to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF. In reality, the granting of the licences has consolidated Mugabe and Zanu PF’s hold on the media. The government has not embraced the spirit or letter of the GPA to take steps to “ensure that the public media provides balanced and fair coverage to all political parties for their legitimate activities”.
The government has also failed to ensure that “the public and private media shall refrain from using abusive language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred or that unfairly undermines political parties and other organisations”. What we have witnessed since the formation of the unity government is the escalation of hate speech in the public media.
Also of major concern is that not a single television licence has been granted to private players. In fact, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has not even bothered to call for television licence applications.
Exiled journalists have not been guaranteed freedom to return home to practise their profession. Letters were written to and ignored by the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity seeking guarantees for the unimpeded return of the journalists in anticipation that the GPA would usher in an open media environment. As a result, Zimbabweans “running or working for external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe” are not able to return home as envisaged by the GPA.
We also bemoan the reluctance or failure by the inclusive government to abrogate archaic and draconian laws that restrict media freedom and plurality, among them, Aippa; the Public Order and Security Act; BSA; Officials Secrets Act; Prisons Act; Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act; Courts and Adjudicating Authorities (Public Restrictions) Act; the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act; and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The common law of criminal defamation and publication of “falsehoods” have had an equally chilling effect on media freedom and should be abrogated.
Our government should today be reminded that media freedom is not only a fundamental right, but a basic necessity for democracy to thrive and blossom. We demand real media reforms now!
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