HARARE— A Zimbabwean member of parliament wants to introduce a bill that would change the country’s strict media laws. Some Zimbabwe journalists say the initiative might not yield the freedom of press they want.
Zimbabwe has at least six laws that curtail the operations of media and have resulted in journalists being arrested, deported or denied operating licenses.
New governemnt, old repressive laws
Member of parliament Settlement Chikwinya said little has changed in the past four years, despite formation of the unity government which promised to repeal all repressive laws.
“It is still prohibitive for freedom of expression, and that is why we have come up with a bill that tries to promote freedom of expression and transparency," Chikwinya said. "In actual terms it remains draconian, in the fact that it criminalizes journalistic practice - when yet the world over, journalistic practices, if there is any alleged offense, civil proceedings must take precedence."
The fact that an MP is proposing the bill is itself unusual. In Zimbabwe, government ministers traditionally introduce new bills. If Chikwinya's bill becomes law, it will be a first in Zimbabwe's 32-year history.
The bill Chikwinya is proposing would reduce government interference in the operation, accreditation and regulation of the media.
On Friday, the MP invited journalists to critique his bill before he presents it to parliament later this month. One of the journalists, Golden Gutu, seemed unimpressed by the proposal.
“To me, I do see a difference between this proposed bill and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act," Gutu said. "I think the MP could have done much better to propose the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act rather than to retain [it] in a different title.”
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is Zimbabwe’s main media law, established by President Robert Mugabe’s government 10 years ago.
Tafadzwa Mariso, a freelance journalist, also attended the Friday briefing. He said, “I think it is a good initiative as long as it goes with the amendments that have been proposed. We want him to separate the issues of the freedom of the press and media regulation.”
The amendments Mariso speaks of would prevent the government from naming people to a media council to regulate journalists. Judging from the Friday briefing, many journalists would prefer self-regulation.