via Criminal defamation to go: Prof Moyo Sunday, 27 October 2013 by Sunday Mail Reporter
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo has said Government will soon strike off criminal defamation from the country’s statutes to align the law with provisions of the new Constitution that guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail yesterday, Prof Moyo said the existence of criminal defamation in the legal statutes has caused the country “more harm than good”.
He added that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] (the Criminal Law Code) will be repealed following extensive consultations with stakeholders in the media industry.
“You are indeed right that the codification of criminal defamation in our common law is a major concern for the media fraternity or media sorority as the case may be,” he said.
“The issue has been repeatedly raised in the engagement we have had with the media industry and the concerns that have been raised are serious, genuine, important and urgent. Obviously, there’s a need for wider and deeper consultations on this matter within and outside Government.
“Even so, I am happy to say without any equivocation and without any fear of being contradicted that based on the views we have heard from our engagement with the media industry, given the progressive nature of the new Bill of Rights in our new Constitution and particularly based on the values and ideals of our heroic liberation struggle whose recognition is now enshrined in our new Constitution, I honestly believe that the time has come to remove criminal defamation from our system of justice in the national interest.
“As a ministry that oversees the media industry which is the most affected by criminal defamation, we are persuaded and therefore convinced that the days of having criminal defamation in our statutes now lie in the past.
“Indeed, and although we are not the authority with the power to interpret the law, we nevertheless believe that the constitutionality of criminal defamation under our country’s new constitutional dispensation is questionable, especially given the inherent vagueness of the criteria which are supposed to be used to decide whether the defamation was sufficiently serious to justify the invocation of the criminal sanction.”
Prof Moyo added that intimations with the players in the media fraternity have shown that there is strong suspicion that the criminal defamation law has been abused by “some powerful or vested and well-connected political interests in society who have taken advantage of the wide scope of criminal defamation to either advance personal interest or to seek to fix perceived personal enemies under the convenient but false if not corrupt cover of the State”.
He said Government would, however, ensure the legislation of new civil laws which compel the courts to take civil litigation seriously.
“If we are to remove criminal defamation from our statutes, as I believe we must, then we should without doubt complement that necessary step by strengthening our civil laws with respect to defamation,” he said.
“We should enact needful legislation to get the courts to take defamation more seriously in civil litigation in line with our new Constitution which entrenches the protection of personal reputation and the inherent dignity and worth of a human being. Equally important, there should be statutory measures to prompt the courts to award exemplary damages in civil litigation involving criminal defamation. But make no mistake about it, the time for criminal defamation to go has come.”
The minister called for an end to media polarisation and urged all practitioners to defend the national interest.
“I think all of us, Zimbabweans at home and in the Diaspora, can see that for whatever reasons the media across the board has been used to polarise the nation by creating a false divide between ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and by creating dodgy labels like ‘public media’; ‘state media’; ‘independent media’; ‘private media’ and so forth. In my humble opinion, these labels are popular but they are neither useful nor correct.
“The untold truth is that Zimbabwe has one mainstream media with different owners, different editorial policies but with common industry interests which have remained unaddressed because of needless polarised perspectives. We now need to unpack the common media industry interests in order to get media houses to start functionally and strategically collaborating with one another as industry or a sector. It is for this reason that we are engaging the media and we are happy that the prospects of finding each other in the national interest are better than good.”