Media reforms sliding backwards: CPJ

HARARE An international press freedom watchdog has accused Zimbabwes coalition government of sliding backwards on media reforms and needs to do more to make good pledges made in 2008 to open up the media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Zimbabwe’s unity government was slowly moving backwards on press reform by using legal and administrative constraints to hamper the media. “We call on the government to repeal the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which would be in line with media reform pledges made under the power-sharing government,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.

The government has failed so far to deliver on a March 2010 promise by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to repeal AIPPA and amend contentious media and security legislation by the end of 2011. AIPAA, considered one of the most repressive media laws in the region, also gives officials sweeping discretion to withhold public information they deem not to be of “public interest,” according to a study by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

Since 2002, AIPPA, a draconian piece of media-licensing legislation, has forced news organizations and journalists operating in Zimbabwe to annually register with the government and pay accreditation fees under penalty of prosecution and jail time. The CPJ statement comes after a late 2010 amendment to AIPPA hiked mandatory registration and accreditation fees for the press working in the country by as much as 400 percent.

Under the new fee structure, an international news outlet must pay US$6 000 for permission to operate a bureau in Zimbabwe (triple the old rate of US$2 000) in addition to a US$1 000 application fee for such permission (double the old rate of US$500).

Renewal of the permit went from being free to US$5 000.

Zimbabwean journalists working for foreign media are required to pay US$100 to apply for accreditation (five times the old rate of US$20) while the accreditation fee quadrupled from US$100 to US$400. The fee for renewal of accreditation went from being free to US$300. Fees for regional southern African news organisations doubled, while increases remained modest for local journalists and news outlets.

Authorities have imposed a $1 fine for each day of delay starting last Monday, according to local journalists. Meanwhile MISA has said the new registration fees for journalists are invalid because they were apparently set by Information Minister Webster Shamu instead of by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), the only one mandated by law to set such fees. Shamu said in a statement last week that the fees were pegged by the nine-member ZMC.

But MISA-Zimbabwe said the wording of the statutory instrument gazetting the new fees clearly implied that the figures emanated from his Shamus ministry which effectively makes them illegal. Going by the wording of the Statutory Instrument, the ministry is in violation of the law, making the Instrument invalid and consequently of no legal force, MISA-Zimbabwe said in a statement.

Post published in: Politics

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