THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) has called on regional governments to desist from criminalising fake news saying it hinders freedom of expression.
Misa believes if fake news is criminalised, this might revive the Criminal Defamation Act which has since been outlawed.
During a Twitter discussion on the impact of criminalisation of fake news on constitutional rights, Misa said governments should look for other ways to combat misinformation.
This comes as Zimbabwe’s Press freedom credentials have been dented by the arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, members of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), legislators Job Sikhala (Zengeza West) and Godfrey Sithole (Chitungwiza North) and CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere for allegedly communicating falsehoods.
Alpha Media Holdings editor-in-chief Wisdom Mdzungairi and senior reporter Desmond Chingarande were also recently arrested and charged with transmitting “false data messages”.
“There are so many people who have been arrested on the basis of that provision; ordinary citizens, and people communicating online; for example, on WhatsApp or on Facebook, but also even media practitioners. Many people have been arrested on the basis of section 31 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act,” a Misa representative said.
Misa said criminalisation of publishing falsehoods promoted self-censorship and infringed on citizens’ fundamental rights.
Misa added: “And as a result, ordinary people are not able to fully exercise their digital rights.”