Resultantly, laws that were crafted under the old constitutional dispensation continue to be implemented corroding the democratic principles and human rights safeguards contained in the new constitution. These include explicit guarantees for media freedom, promotion and protection of freedom of expression as well as access to information.
While MISA-Zimbabwe notes with cautious optimism the work being done by the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI), and is encouraged by the recent Constitutional Court ruling on criminal defamation as well as repeated pronouncements by Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo, underlining the need for greater media freedom, the old legislative framework remains in place posing threats to the enjoyment of the very same rights the new constitution seeks to promote and protect.
This legislative disjuncture has been underscored by the arrests and harassment of at least four journalists this year alone under the country's harsh media laws. These include the arrest of Daily News Editor Stanley Gama and reporter Fungai Kwaramba under criminal defamation laws; the conviction of provincial community newspaper publisher James Muonwa under AIPPA in April 2014; the raiding of community radio initiatives, Radio Dialogue and Radio Kwelaz in April and June 2014 respectively, under suspicions they were in violation of the Broadcasting Services Act.
In addition, law enforcement agents have used old laws to bar marches and gatherings by media practitioners, civil society organisations and members of the public. Several citizens have also fallen foul of existing laws while exercising their right to freedom of expression through online platforms. The old media regulatory framework continues to be used to license aspiring media owners, including private broadcasters.
It is against this reality that the statement by Minister Moyo on 3 July 2014 that the new constitution takes precedence over other pieces of legislation in regulating the media space – though sending a positive message – has caused more confusion and exposes seeming disharmony within government and state institutions in interpreting and implementing provisions of the new constitution. (Moyo was addressing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services in Harare).
Earlier, while addressing a civil society meeting on the constitution hosted by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in June 2014, Deputy Justice Minister Fortune Chasi appeared to defend the continued use of old laws arguing this was provided for in the new constitution. He cited Schedule Six Paragraph 10 of the new constitution.
It states: "Subject to this Schedule, all existing laws continue in force but must be construed in conformity with this Constitution".
Although Moyo insisted during the same parliamentary address that the problem is not with the law but practice, it is MISA-Zimbabwe's considered view that as long as there is no urgent holistic review of the legislative framework in accordance with the new constitution, the implementation of the constitution will remain mired in confusion and subject to individual interpretation of the law.
This creates legislative chaos whereby those holding public office including law enforcement agents can easily resort to the old constitutional dispensation and use myriad instruments to curtail citizens' liberties, including their right to freedom of expression, when called to account or when threatened by media and public scrutiny.
It is MISA-Zimbabwe’s hope that the IMPI process will culminate in progressive recommendations in addressing the legislative discord in the exercise of freedom of expression and that in turn, government urgently expedites the ongoing process of aligning the country’s media laws with the constitution.
It is only through an unambiguous and precise legislative framework that Zimbabweans can fully realise their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression, privacy of their communication, access to information and media freedom.Post published in: News