Gov’t urged to scrap media controls

A leading international media rights watchdog has called on Zimbabwe’s coalition government to scrap tough press laws that continue to hinder journalists from carrying out their work.

The International Press Institute said the Access to Information and Protection of Priva (AIPPA) gave the government too much control over the media, with journalists and newspapers required to obtain licences from the state-appointed Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) to operate in the country.

“The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act allows the government to control who is or is not considered a journalist,” said IPI director Alison Bethel-McKenzie.

She said threats last month by the ZMC to stop foreign newspapers from circulating in the country until they open local offices in Zimbabwe as well as pay a percentage of their earnings to the commission were meant to impede the free flow of information in the country.

The ZMC’s decision to hike accreditation fees for journalists working for foreign media was another attempt to control the media and restrict the dissemination of news and information seen as critical of the authorities.

“These are all forms of censorship designed to keep news that might be critical of the government out of Zimbabwe,” she said.

While Zimbabwe’s coalition government has implemented some of the media reforms agreed in a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai it has avoided instituting far-reaching measures that would drastically open up the country’s media space.

The reforms instituted so far include the establishment of the ZMC and the licensing of at least nine private newspapers to compete with the state-run titles that have dominated the country’s media landscape since 2003.

But Mugabe’s allies in the Ministry of Information that oversees the media have continued to hold back reforms especially in the key broadcasting sector.

More than two years after the coalition government was formed, the government broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) still dominates the country’s media.

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has refused to license private television or radio stations, forcing several radio stations to broadcast into Zimbabwe from Europe or United States.

The Ministry that is controlled by Mugabe loyalist Webster Shamhu and the President’s influential press secretary, George Charamba, has also held on to the AIPPA and other laws that restrict media freedom.

In addition to requiring journalists and media houses to register with the government, the law also criminalises the publication of "falsehoods". It has been solely used to harass and arrest journalists working for the private media or state media reporters who fail to toe the line.

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