MISA-Zimbabwe Quarterly Media Freedom Monitor January-April 2016

Introduction

misaZimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution imposes on the State, among other obligations, to ensure practical measures are taken to protect and promote fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights for their realisation and fulfillment.

While the  Bill of Rights (Chapter 4 Rights), has widely been acclaimed as meeting international benchmarks on fundamental human rights, events on the ground speak to a government that is not too keen on respecting citizens’ enjoyment of their constitutionally protected rights.

This is evidenced by the clampdowns witnessed in the first quarter of 2016 against journalists and citizens exercising their right to media freedom, freedom of expression, free artistic expression and freedom to demonstrate and petition.

This notwithstanding, the situation remains untenable given the continued existence of restrictive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Broadcasting Services Act, Official Secrets Act, Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act, Interception of Communications Act. These laws remain as  strong tools used by the government to criminalise otherwise constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Media reforms

This situation has spawned increased agitations for media law and policy reforms which could trigger costly constitutional challenges on the legality of the afore-mentioned laws and several others that could be in breach of the 2013 Constitution.

For instance, it took a Constitutional Court application by MISA-Zimbabwe to clear the air on whether criminal defamation was still lawful in view of an earlier ruling made by the same court in terms of the old Constitution.

The application followed judgment in the case of Madanhire and Others in 2013 in which the court ruled that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (the CODE), was inconsistent with the provisions of Section 20 of the former constitution which provided for freedom of expression, and was therefore void.

Subsequently, on 3 February 2016 the court granted an application by MISA- Zimbabwe seeking confirmation that criminal defamation was no longer part of the law. The ruling followed a concession by the State that Section 96, which provides for criminal defamation under the CODE, was void ab initio (from the beginning.)

In his ruling, Chief Justice Chidyausiku sitting with the full bench of the Constitutional Court, granted the application by the applicants comprising MISA-Zimbabwe,  journalists Nqaba Matshazi, Sidney Saize, Godwin Mangudya and Roger Stringer. Advocate  Thembinkosi  Magwaliba, successfully argued that Section 96 was invalid from the time of its enactment in 2004.

And as pressure mounts for government to fulfill its constitutional obligations, the MP for Mabvuku Honourable James Maridadi, in March  tabled a notice of motion to repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in line with Section 62 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

In tabling the notice Hon. Maridadi said the Executive was abrogating its duties by failing to gazette bills to replace one of the most restrictive media laws.

Instead of implementing the long overdue reforms, the government is reportedly crafting legal and policy instruments to govern Information and  Communication Technologies (ICTs) under the guise of curbing cyber crimes. This has a chilling effect on citizens’ free expression online.

Media freedom/freedom of expression violations

The arrest of playwright Sylvanos Mudzvova at the Parliament of Zimbabwe on 13 April 2016,   is evidence of a government that is reluctant to uphold and protect citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Mudzvova  had planned to stage a one-man play titled: Bring Back the $15 billion, and  had invited parliamentarians to come and watch his play. He scripted the play  following President Robert Mugabe’s revelations that $15 billion in diamonds revenue had gone missing from mining activities in the Marange district of Manicaland Province.

The intolerance to divergent views and demands for accountability even extended to the arrest of journalists Winstone Antonio, Sherpherd Tozvireva and Itai Zengenya, who had converged at parliament to cover Mudzvova’s play, in blatant violation of media freedom.

Section 60  on freedom of conscience provides the right to freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief and the freedom to practice, propagate and give expression to the same, whether in public or in private, alone or together with others.

Earlier on 10 March 2016, the Censorship Board banned the distribution of a documentary, Democrats, which narrates the constitution making process in Zimbabwe. The board alleged the film was unfit for viewership within the country.

The board’s acting secretary, Isaac Chiranganyika, in a letter dated 10 March 2016, highlighted that the censorship board had reviewed the Democrats documentary and recommended that its DVD remains banned and prohibited in Zimbabwe, arguing that it was not suitable for public showing.

Refer to table beneath for more cases of media freedom and freedom of expression violations recorded during the period under review.

Conclusion

While repeated commitments to media law reforms by the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, are commendable, this cannot continue to be the case given that three years have since lapsed following adoption of the 2013 Constitution.

The ministry should demonstrate its commitment by coming up with exact timelines as to when it will implement the envisaged media reforms in line with the recommendations and findings of its very- own-sanctioned Information and Media Panel of Inquiry.

Further, the government should spearhead public awareness campaigns on the Constitution by translating it into all the 16 official languages as stated in terms of Section 7 of the supreme law to enable citizens to assert their fundamental rights and freedoms.

This it should prioritise more-so within government institutions themselves to curb the unlawful arrests and harassment of journalists conducting their lawful and constitutionally guaranteed professional responsibilities.

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