THE Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has made a U-turn on its promise to work towards the co-regulation of the sector after newly-elected commissioners argued that their powers would be usurped.
When the promises were made, the ZMC board was not fully constituted, but after recent appointments, new members were said to have raised the red flag.
Media representatives this week declared a deadlock, saying the ZMC had reverted back to pursuing statutory regulation.
They raised concern over the government’s sincerity towards media reforms.
The Media Institute for Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (Misa-Zimbabwe), which is part of the negotiations with ZMC, said the commission argued that a co-regulation framework was tantamount to usurping its powers.
“We reached a deadlock with the Zimbabwe Media Commission,” Misa-Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo said.
“When we were having these engagements (at the beginning) there was no commission base in terms of commissioners. We were engaged with the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Justice. Along the curve, commissioners were sworn in and all hell has broken loose,” he added.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) executive director Loughty Dube said there was no need for the ZMC to feel as if its powers were being usurped. A co-regulatory framework entails statutory regulation alongside a self-regulatory body.
The framework prescribes that the media self-regulates at the entry point having established the codes of conduct jointly with ZMC.
Once the code of conduct is agreed by both parties, media players and ZMC, journalists will then be regulated at primary level of entry, which translates to self-regulation.
If members of the public or industry are aggrieved and feel that the primary entry of the regulatory mechanism has challenges, there still is an opportunity to appeal with ZMC.
It is against this backdrop that media players, Misa-Zimbabwe, VMCZ, Media Alliance Zimbabwe (MAZ), Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and Zimbabwe Editors Forum (Zinef) were assigned by Parliament in consultation with the Ministry of Information to draft a Media Practitioners Bill to address the issues at law.
However, some commissioners are pushing for the establishment of another statutory regulatory body to work together with ZMC.
“What we are seeing from other players around is to create a new body that they will call a co-regulatory body, a council that they will call co-regulation,” Dube said.
“And that goes against the defines and dictates of co-regulation, which calls for the law to recognise an existing self-regulatory body because when you set it up under a statute it becomes a statutory body, the same way we had the Media Council under the Media and Information Commission (MIC now ZMC).”
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), which was disbanded, provided for the establishment of an ethics committee, which was a subcommittee within the regulatory framework of the Media and Information Commission.
The ethics committee, which was a statutory regulator by its nature, was supposed to be chaired by a journalist but media practitioners shunned the committee for years until it collapsed.
Moyo implored the government to learn from history.
“The challenges that we are facing at ZMC are not born at ZMC but are proxy wars that are breaking loose at ZMC. But there are bigger interests from political spheres,” he said.
“In my thinking, it’s the political players who have got a say at policy level who are struggling to break forth from the old way of doing things.
“This is a philosophy we have heard from ZMC officials that if the media is left to govern itself there would be chaos. In one meeting they said Zimbabwe would be a Syria. With all due respect, this is an archaic type of thinking,” Moyo added.
However, ZMC vice chairperson Jaspher Maphosa denied any political influence within the commission.
“ZMC is not an appendage of any political party. It’s a Constitutional body,” Maphosa said, adding that he will respond to all concerns raised when done with lectures.
He argued that the media is more responsible if given responsibilities and held accountable in terms of regulating its behaviour and defining steps it should take when it moves its own interest and that of the public.
MAZ national coordinator Nigel Nyamutumbu warned that the industry will resist any attempt to entrench statutory regulation.