November 10, 2004

Press laws tightened

Zimbabwe's parliament has tightened media regulations that could see unlicensed journalists jailed for two years, state radio reported. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill had been passed following several weeks of tense debate and stiff resistance from opposition legislators. Under the new regulations journalists who work without a government licence now face a two-year jail sentence or a fine or both.
The new provisions tighten a law originally passed following President Mugabe's victory in presidential polls two years ago under which two independent newspapers have been shut down and several journalists arrested. Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo has said the amendments are intended to "protect the state from attacks by enemies of the country". The original Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) bars foreign journalists from working permanently here, and says that only local reporters licensed by a state-approved media commission can operate.
It was criticised by media watchdogs and human rights groups after it was passed, but the government has defended it, saying both it and the amended law were constitutional and aimed at instilling media ethics. During the debates which preceded the law, opposition lawmakers were strongly critical of the proposed amendments, alleging that the information minister wanted "complete control" of the media. Another amendment brought in by the bill is that only one organisation, instead of two, has to nominate members to sit on the Media and Information Commission (MIC), the body responsible for registering and deregistering journalists and newspapers. (News24/South Africa)

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