1 Feb 2002

Independent journalists oppose new media bill

Independent journalists in Zimbabwe are preparing to challenge a restrictive media bill, passed on Jan 31 night, as soon as President Robert Mugabe signs it into law. "Now that the bill is passed we expect President Mugabe to sign it into law in the next few days. If that happens the Independent Association of Journalists of Zimbabwe is to immediately challenge it in the courts on the grounds that it still infringes on our rights and on the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by Zimbabwe's constitution," association president Abel Mutsakani told IRIN.

Rashweat Mukundu, a research and information officer at the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), told IRIN there were significant changes in the law passed on Thursday night, but that this would not ensure the freedom of expression or journalists' access to information. "There is still no clear obligation on the part of the public officials to release information," he told IRIN, because other laws like the Official Secrets Act and the Public Order and Security Act passed two weeks ago also placed restrictions on access to information.

According to Mukundu, the law passed on Thursday was changed to allow an envisaged media commission, instead of the minister of information, to register and accredit journalists. The new laws also did not require media organisations already registered in the country to apply for a new licence, as proposed in the original bill, he said. However, the commission is to be appointed by the minister.

Amendments "toned down" the "arbitrary powers of the minister" and allowed limited foreign investment in the media industry, Mukundu said. However, he added: "We want something that is comprehensive and explicit in guaranteeing the flow of information from government bodies to the people of Zimbabwe and the media."

Mutsakani said amendments to the bill would have no impact on the free flow of information ahead of presidential elections set for 9-10 March . He said the media commission envisaged in the law to register and accredit journalists would take a while to set up, meaning that any foreign journalist wishing to visit the country to report on the election would still have to apply for permission to minister Jonathan Moyo in the president's office. (IRIN)

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