Another media gag on the cards

george_charambaHARARE Paranoid Zanu (PF) hardliners are pushing for the passing of a controversial new media gagging law that would criminalise the publication of judicial decisions and other official documents without ministerial approval. (Pictured: George Charamba The hardliner perm

The General Laws Amendment Bill, which has been passed by Parliament, seeks to place additional obstacles in the way of access to judicial decisions, new legislation and public records.

The Bill contains a clause to amend the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act that has serious implications for the rights of citizens to freely access and distribute legislation, notices and other material published in the Government Gazette as well as court judgments and other public documents.

Under the proposed law, the publication of any government document would require prior permission from the authorities.

This means that if a private organisation wanted to publicise electoral laws prior to an election it would have to get permission from the government in addition to any permission it might require from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.


Similarly, a human rights group or a journalist would need the justice ministers permission to publish a judicial decision affecting the publics rights. The proposed law would restrict the ability of ordinary citizens to monitor actions by the government and could further worsen the culture of impunity that has pervaded Zimbabwes political landscape since


Civic and media organisations want the Bill withdrawn saying Zimbabwe already has more than its fair share of draconian laws that hinder the free flow of information while imposing severe restrictions on journalists and newspapers in the country. Zimbabwe already has some of the worst media laws in the world, with, for example, journalists being liable to imprisonment for up to two years if caught practising without a licence from the Zimbabwe Media Commission. Newspapers are also required to register with the commission, with those failing to comply with the requirement facing closure and seizure of their equipment by the police.

The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) said the latest attempt to deprive the public of access to important decisions regarding court rulings and the making of new laws was a blatant attempt to condemn Zimbabweans to ignorance and the acceptance of an authoritarian culture of rule-by-decree.

Such an attempt to gag the media from reporting on important government activity that should be freely accessible to the public also offends against the best practice of most SADC (Southern African Development Community) nations let alone most other democracies and must be struck down when it is presented to Parliament for MPs consideration, MMPZ said.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders last week described the proposed law as a major step backwards.

Drafted by members of the coalition governments Zanu (PF) wing led by President Robert Mugabe, this Bill would just aggravate the already precarious situation for Zimbabwes media, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Franois Julliard said.

Julliard described the Bill as a political manoeuvre designed to prevent any critical examination of the governments actions.

Extremely dangerous

The bill is extremely dangerous as it would allow the authorities to adopt unjust measures without anyone knowing and without anyone being able to protest. It shows that the government is rejecting transparency in favour of secrecy and abuse of authority, he said. Mugabe, an 86-years-old despot in power for 30 straight years and still wanting to run for office in polls likely to take place next year, wants to use the proposed law to tighten his grip on the media ahead of the make-or-break elections.

The media gag is the latest in the bag of measures to be employed by a desperate Zanu (PF) to steal the impending 2011 elections and regain control of Parliament that it lost to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirais MDC-T party in 2008. Other measures include the use of intimidation and violence on a hapless electorate, particularly in rural areas.

The former ruling party has already deployed soldiers and revived torture bases across the country to intimidate voters in rural areas. The Bills announcement has coincided with a number of developments in recent weeks that have triggered concerns about a renewed crackdown on the media. The government announced at the start of this month that no licences

would be issued to new radio or television stations.

Two freelance journalists were arrested while covering a public debate on the countrys proposed Constitution at the end of October. The police also issued an arrest warrant two weeks ago for the editor of The Zimbabwean, Wilf Mbanga, in connection with an article critical of Mugabe that the authorities say was published by the paper after the 2008 elections.

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