The parliament of Zimbabwe has approved an amendment to the country's already tough media law called the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This regulation, once signed into law, could see unlicensed journalists jailed for up to two years.
The amendment was passed Tuesday in parliament despite strong opposition by the members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Under the new law, journalists who work without a government license could be subject to a jail term not exceeding two years, a fine or both.
The act, signed into law by President Robert Mugabe soon after his controversial re-election in 2002 makes registration with the government-appointed commission compulsory for any journalist working in Zimbabwe. Publishing companies are also required to register with the commission. Three newspapers charged with violating the law have been shut down.
While the act outlawed unlicensed journalists, it was silent on the penalty for operating without registration. Many journalists have also been arrested for breaching sections of the act but up to now, none have been convicted.
The act has been criticized by local and international media and human rights organizations as an infringement of freedom of expression. But speaking in parliament Tuesday, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, seen as the architect of the legislation, defended it saying it is the norm worldwide. Mr. Moyo was quoted in the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, as saying irresponsible journalism could be used to undermine Zimbabwe's sovereignty.
The amendment will come into effect once it is signed into law by President Mugabe.