The potentially exciting meeting became a damp squib, as Information Minister Webster Shamu and some journalists gathered in Kariba last week to find common ground in what needs to be done to remove the draconian laws that restrict media freedom in our country. As expected, it was a major disappointment.
They passed a few resolutions asking the government to tinker with the mis-named Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), but this legislation will remain largely in place. The participants also resolved that the MIC should grant newspaper licences within six months of an application being received.
Our position is and has always been that legislation such as AIPPA has no place in a modern democracy. It should simply be scrapped. No amount of tinkering with the act can possibly make it acceptable. It inhibits freedom of the press and was promulgated with the specific intention of facilitating state control of information.
Governments should never licence journalists.
We believe the media should regulate itself, and support the endeavours of the Voluntary Media Council.
We also believe that foreign correspondents should be allowed to move freely around our country and report whatever they like, as was the case before the introduction of AIPPA.
Newspapers such as The Zimbabwean should not be subjected to punitive import tariffs or be forced to operate from foreign lands.
We also believe feel strongly that journalists should not be harassed, intimidated, arrested, tortured or kidnapped – as has become the practice in modern-day Zimbabwe.
The arrest this week of the editor of The Independent, Vincent Kahiya, and his news editor soon after the Kariba meeting is a major setback to media freedom in Zimbabwe.
If the government of national unity wants the world to take it seriously, it must move fast to amend the laws that restrict press freedom.
In addition, the threats against exiled journalists must stop and they must be actively encouraged to return home to re-build a vibrant and credible independent media.