Let journos do their job

It is clear that politicians, the police and business people are using the criminal defamation law to fix journalists. Far too often we see media practitioners being arrested for reporting about particular individuals who want to keep their dark secrets hidden from public view.

Paul Bogaert
Paul Bogaert

The ultimate victims of this law are truth, knowledge and development.

As a media house, we are acutely averse to this tendency to victimise journalists for doing what is fundamentally their duty—acting as an information conduit to make this world a better place. That is why we are calling on Zimbabweans to work collectively and urgently to repeal the notorious criminal defamation statute from our books.

We celebrated when the new constitution, which outlaws the infamous law, was adopted last year. What worries us, however, is that, as in the case of hundreds other laws that need to be aligned to the new constitution, criminal defamation is still on the statute books.

Not only that, selfish individuals with a lot to hide and warped egos to protect are still using it to harass and intimidate journalists.

The responsibility to get rid of this medieval piece of legislation lies with us all, but journalists and lawmakers must take the lead. It is heartening that the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) has resolved to fight criminal law in the courts. But making a resolution is one thing. Following up with action is another. Zinef must move fast and take the matter to court with the urgency that it requires.

There is always strength in numbers, so Zinef must work together with other media associations like Misa-Zimbabwe, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists to ensure that the law goes and meaningful media reform is adopted.

Of course, the legislature is crucial to law reform, so media collaborators must adopt mature and aggressive lobbies to ensure that criminal defamation is taken before Parliament. It is vital to convince our MPs about the wrongness of this law and that takes more than just making press statements.

The MPs need to be engaged in a systematic and sustained manner. In addition, media organisations must take advantage of the Information, Media and Broadcasting Services ministry’s re-engagement overtures to ensure that criminal defamation is removed and adverse legislation like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) is changed to align with the provisions on freedom of expression and the media in the new constitution.

Post published in: Editor: Wilf Mbanga

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