Nothing draconian about our media laws

Source: Nothing draconian about our media laws | The Herald 03 FEB, 2020

Nothing draconian about our media laws
Mr Nick Mangwana

Kudakwashe Mugari Deputy News Editor Politics

Media in Zimbabwe have been described by others as polarised, while some say media laws are draconian. To find out more and the 2020 prospects, Deputy News Editor, Kudakwashe Mugari (KM) interviewed Mr Nick Mangwana (NM), the Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.

KM: The Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services recently held its 2020 Strategic Planning workshop in Darwendale. What was the outcome and what can we expect from the ministry this year?

NM: The nation should expect enhanced communications through encouraging citizen participation in national development. Social media usage in this regard will be pivotal in increased positive publicity through mobilisation of local and foreign media houses to cover key and topical national events.

We will be bridging the rural-urban divide through provision of contemporary technologies as well as old styles of engagement where people don’t really have the technology. The ministry will deploy mobile outreach vans and build information huts to bring information to the people.

You will also see the licensing of community radio stations, with priority being given to far flung and formerly marginalised areas. We will broaden areas of television and radio coverage to close the information gap and bring diversity, variety and choice with a view to industrialising the information sector. In this regard, Zimbabwe Digital Broadcasting will seek to accelerate the completion of the project by installing gap fillers and new transmitter sites were necessary.

KM: Stakeholders in the industry feel amendments to the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) remain draconian and hinder freedom of the Press. What is the Government’s response to that?

NM: Let me start with POSA. This was not amended, but repealed and replaced by a law called Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA) which matches any law in any other modern democracy and jurisdiction. Its provisions match British, South African and Australian equivalents. The model law came from Civil Society and you don’t hear our usual foreign detractors attacking MOPA as a piece of legislation.

Moving on to the laws that are replacing AIPPA. Government invested a lot in the consultative process. These Bills had so much input from our stakeholders as we embarked on an inclusive approach. Even after many consultative engagements, when Parliament took the Bills around the country for citizens’ input, we took those views on board. Only in situations where people wanted to dilute constitutional provisions did we point out that we could not do that.

A case in point is where others wanted the ZMC not to have certain responsibilities, which are provided for by the Constitution. So, the short response is that so far no journalist has had a problem with MOPA. I don’t remember a case where a member of the Press was arrested under the provisions of MOPA. There is no evidence whatsoever that MOPA stifles Press Freedom. As for the other Bills, the Zimbabwe Media Commission and Freedom Information, they are still before Parliament and everyone is still free to lobby with legislators for the refinement of any provisions they find offending, but there is nothing draconian about them.

In any case, which media practitioner has fallen foul of the amended AIPPA in the last two years? Who has been charged under the provisions of the outgoing AIPPA since the advent of the Second Republic because I don’t know anyone.

KM: Others say there is polarity in the media, what is your take on that?

NM: Yes, there is polarity in the media and this is something that stakeholders and Government have to work together on in order to de-polarise our media, as a way of also de-polarising the nation at large. The media affects individual views and political behaviour. There are common perspectives that are cultivated by the media. So, if certain sections of the media choose that they will never publish anything about a certain political entity of policy unless it is negative and another takes an inverse view, that breeds polarisation of both the media and society.

The media gets into the space where they don’t publish things as they are, but only if they fit into certain political conveniences and narratives. While this can happen in any country, in Zimbabwe there is professional dumbing down which probably is a reaction to citizen journalism and the other competing digital platforms, which are run by non-professionals.

A polarised media is toxic and a threat to Zimbabwe’s socio-economic environment. One of the areas we have been looking at through the Zimbabwe Media Commission is bringing back professionalism to the media. A code of Ethics or Professional Code would go a long way in ensuring that our media treats itself with respect and is treated with respect by all. But the platforms which are run by non-professionals will always pose a massive challenge.

KM: There seems to be a slow pace in the finalisation of media reforms since last year. What is delaying the process?

NM: I came into office in October 2018, the Minister came in September, the Deputy Minister also came into office in September. November 2018 we had started asking for position papers on what we felt needed to be done as far as reforming our media sector was concerned. We held all stakeholders round-tables from November 26 to 28, 2018, and in December 2018 we brought together stakeholders and drafters to iron out kinks, debate, discuss and find each other in realigning media laws to the Constitution. Of the four Bills: the Zimbabwe Media Commission and Freedom of Information are in Parliament for their second reading; the Broadcasting Services Act Amendment is headed to the Inter-Ministerial Committee this February, and finally the Protection of Personal Information is still under consultation.

Certainly one cannot say that this is a slow pace.

KM: What is the latest on the proposed licensing of six television stations and 10 community radio stations?

NM: Presently we await regulations from the Attorney-General’s Office which are closing the gaps in the law that have to do with the licensing and operations of private television stations and community radio stations. We are currently carrying out sensitisation outreach engagements.

Next week we are visiting three provinces to conscientise citizens so that we don’t leave anyone behind. We are going to Binga, Hwange, Plumtree, Gwanda and Chikombedzi. These are communities which we have on our Frequency Allotment Plan as priority in terms of licensing.

KM: How far has the Government gone with the revival of the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust?

NM: The revival of the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust is right on course. As you are aware, the ZMMT is mandated with overseeing the operations of State-owned media companies. The Trust has not been in place since 2001. We have identified those who will assume the role of Trustees and now we wait for His Excellency, President Mnangagwa, to make the appointments. It is now a matter of weeks, if not days.

Much like the rest of the work we are carrying out in the media sector, the revival of the ZMMT will go a long way in reforming our media through strengthening ethical and professional conduct in the industry. The Second Republic is big on governance.

KM: What are you going to do on content development as well as the empowerment of independent producers of content?

NM: We are excited about this new chapter of the country’s media landscape as we are going to see and hear new voices and ideas. As part of empowering content producers, we will be commissioning them to produce feature films, skits and jingles. We are also providing studio space and equipment at subsidised rates and training workshops. We have a Draft Film Policy already before Cabinet. This speaks to the issues of the development of content production.

KM: POLAD actors requested for perks from Government, will the Government honour their demands?

NM: It is unfortunate that POLAD is misrepresented by some quarters either intentionally or out of a lack of understanding what exactly it is about. POLAD is a grouping of political parties that have put aside partisan interests to engender a culture of peaceful engagement as a mechanism to deal with issues affecting the country. 

It seeks to promote national healing and reconciliation, restore and rebuild trust among communities, strengthen confidence in public institutions, as well as influence Government policies towards people’s empowerment and poverty reduction.

Government is providing fiscal support towards POLAD’s programmes and is not giving perks to those involved in the dialogue. Like I indicated, it is unfortunate that some choose to play to the gallery by insinuating, misrepresenting and mischievously spreading false information possibly as a way of seeking to devalue POLAD.

This lie that “Mnangagwa’s POLAD members demand luxury cars, allowances” came from a local daily which failed to provide an ounce of proof to back its assertion, and true to form, the gullible and those with ulterior motives chose to run with it. For the avoidance of doubt, POLAD never asked for any perks. I was at the function they are alleged to have tabled that request and nothing of the sort happened. The President simply said POLAD work is of national interest and brings people together and unifies the nation. It is, therefore, important that its activities be funded by the fiscus. How does this translate into luxury cars and other perquisites?

KM: There are conflicting statements by teacher organisations about the situation in schools. Some are saying teachers are not going to work and are on industrial action while others say it is business as usual. What is the correct position in our schools?

NM: The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has carried out inspections in rural and urban schools and our teachers are at work as usual. Personally, I believe industrial action should be the last resort. It is the nuclear option of any labour dispute. Not the weapon of choice. Dialogue should be the default. Government and its employees have platforms, which both parties can use to bargain instead of taking to the streets and prejudicing learners. We have to learn to find each other.

KM: We have seen some teachers coercing students to demonstrate in schools, don’t you think there’s a hidden political hand to this? How is Government going to deal with such elements?

NM: We have had one incident in Bulawayo where a teacher is alleged to have incited students to demonstrate, and I believe the police are investigating the matter. Where a crime has been committed, the law will take its course, where the matter is purely disciplinary and a violation of the code of conduct, the appropriate authorities in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education will take the necessary steps. But teachers should respect parents who send their children to school for them to learn and not be converted into political fodder by malcontents.

KM: The country has been battling the scourge of machete thugs infamously known as “MaShurugwi” or “Mabhudi”. Some say these machete criminals are politically connected, what is your assessment? Don’t you think these criminals are a creation by the third force to destabilise the country and tarnish the good work being done by the Second Republic?

NM: The term “MaShurugwi” is not only stereotyping, but derogatory to people who come from Shurugwi. It’s an epithet that is meant to ostracise those that come from that district. Chiefs from the area have already registered their displeasure. Not everyone from Shurugwi carries a machete and very few members of the machete gangs are from Shurugwi. This is why the chiefs take offence to this and view it as a tribal epithet.

If you look at the so-called “MaShurugwi”, who have been arrested so far, their villages of origin are not concentrated to Shurugwi, but from all parts of the country. It is unfortunate that some media houses and persons have chosen to label marauding machete-wielding criminals that way, with no empirical evidence supporting such a label.

The police have now moved in and brought back law and order in areas where these machete criminals had become a menace to society. As you are aware, every gold rush attracts all sorts of characters and this increases criminal activities in gold-rich areas. In Mashonaland Central under the Operation Chikorokoza Ngachipere, over 1 600 illegal miners and 91 touts have been arrested, while 189 unregistered taxis have been impounded. Of these, 77 people have so far been sentenced to two years each in jail for machete related crimes.

Criminal activities also provide opportunities and cover for others with nefarious agendas; so it cannot be discounted that where criminality occurs those who think that they can take advantage of this for political mileage or expedience. These take advantage of impressionable young people to make political points, but there is currently no evidence of that in these cases.