Abuse of State authority and Police Harassment of the Media
We note with concern the growing abuse of authority by the State through harassment and arrests of journalists. On the 3rd of March, Zenzele Ndebele of Radio Dialogue was harassed on account of flimsy reasons. On the 8th of April, Stanley Gama and Fungi Kwaramba were equally abused. On the 20th of April, Nevanji Madanhire and Moses Matenga were treated to the same fate of abuse and intimidation.
Last Saturday was press freedom day, a day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate the media and the role they play in the world today. By stopping and barring a simple and harmless march by members of the Fourth Estate to celebrate their day In Zimbabwe, the government set the tone of the true repressive context in which the media operates in this country.
That action was a loud message to the world on the state of the media in Zimbabwe; a media that operates at the mercy of government and that is regarded as a threat by those in power and authority. For banning the march, the police gave the flimsy reason that they had no manpower to escort the journalists but at the same time provided more than the required number of police officers in riot gear to ensure that the march did not take place.
Last Saturday’s prohibited march reflects the true state of the media in Zimbabwe; a shackled industry struggling to operate as freely as dictated by the new Constitution overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Zimbabwe last year.
As Alternative Cabinet, we call for the urgent stop of harassment of journalists and the instituting of mechanisms to provide security and safety to our journalists.
The Divergence of government communication sector in a convergence dispensation
- Zimbabwe has media bodies scattered across Ministries i.e.: POTRAZ, the ZMC, BAZ, Transmedia, and the interception function in the security ministry
- There is an urgent need to bring all media legislation and entities under one umbrella
- We note the noble effort and the well meaning intentions of some of the individuals who have been appointed to this important national duty.
- We are however worried that by dint of the constitution, not necessarily the composition, the independence of the panel is questionable.
- The body is a creature of unilateralism as opposed to sector-wide consultation.
- The crisis in the media sector is well articulated in already existing national documents including the Constitution. We call upon members of the IMPI to resist any manipulation and live true to their historical integrity to push for the implementation of the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe.
- The viability of the print media needs to be relooked in the context of the advent of ICTs and new social media and dwindling income levels in a country with more than 80 percent unemployment. Newspapers in the country cost at least a $1 in a country where individuals survive on less than a $1 a day.
- Also of concern and paramount to their long-term viability is the statutory Zimbabwe Media Commission’s (ZMC), 0.5 percent levy imposed on annual gross turnover realised by media houses at a time when companies are collapsing due to dwindling advertising revenues – the very lifeblood of the survival of media publishing companies.
- Common professional issues such as the declining journalism standards, poor salaries and working conditions and corruption in the media.
- The recognition of self-regulatory mechanisms such as epitomised by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), will increase its effectiveness in promoting media professionalism and ethics. In addition, professionalisation should look at issues of safety and security of journalists as well as improving the working conditions of media practitioners.
- Zimbabwe has one State-owned broadcasting television and only two “independent” radio stations, one owned by the deputy Minister of Information and the other by the State-owned print media house, Zimpapers.
- The nation is tired of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Station, a highly partisan broadcasting station condemned for its partisanship by the AU observer mission in its report of the July 31 election.
- Most parts of the country, particularly on the borders, have access to foreign broadcasting stations than the local ones.
- The advent of Zimbabwe’s new constitution with particular reference to Section 61(2), (3) and (4), if followed to the letter, offers immense opportunity for a reformed media and broadcasting sector especially where it pertains to the transformation of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), into a truly independent public broadcaster.
- In terms of Section 61(3) b which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the media, the broadcasting and other electronic media of communication should be independent of control by government or by political or commercial interests.
- It further stipulates under sub-section 4 that all state-owned media of communications must:
a) Be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications
b) Be impartial and
c) Afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.
- These yet to be implemented guarantees, are at the root of the problems besetting the bankrupt ZBC and the vulgar $40 000 monthly salary, perks and allowances earned by its currently suspended chief executive officer Happison Muchechetere while workers went for months without salaries.
- While the new minister of information has been applauded for dissolving the ZBC board and suspension of its CEO, the problems besetting the corporation can easily be attributed to its governance and management structure.
- As the forensic audit of ZBC gets underway, the minister who is on record saying the government will comply with section 61 as well as section 62 which guarantees the right to access to information, should now shed light on steps being taken to comply with the provisions in question.
- The current governance structure is a naked breach of the afore-mentioned constitutional provision on media freedom not to mention the African Charter on Broadcasting. This has left the corporation exposed to political interference as the minister appoints the board, issues regulations/directions to the board and management.
- What is worrying is the patriotic workers are getting a raw deal as they are working without salaries and using obsolete equipment, some of which are 1924
- ZBC is thus a state-owned, state-controlled and not public broadcaster. The ZBC Commercialisation Act should thus be repealed accordingly to meet the new constitutional obligations.
- The present setup lives room for political interference, patronage, nepotism, propaganda, partisan journalism which impacts negatively on the professional and ethical conduct of ZBC.
- The appointment of an independent ZBC board answerable to Parliament is now of imperative urgency given the new constitutional dispensation
Community radio stations
- Community radio stations as provided for under the Broadcasting Services Act (2001).
- Zimbabwe is now into the 13th year without licensing community radio stations despite their being provided for in terms of the BSA of 2001.
- Instead, the closest there was to further opening of the airwaves, was a renewed call by BAZ in October 2013 for applications for 25 commercial free-to-air provincial radio stations under questionable licensing procedures. Bizarrely, applicants have to indicate directors and shareholders’ political affiliation.
- On digitisation, Zimbabwe is likely to miss the International Telecommunications Union’s 2015 deadline, let alone the SADC cut-off date due to lack of funds. This comes at a time when the country is still to license privately owned commercial television stations notwithstanding the first ever commercial radio stations which started operating in 2011.
- According to Professor Moyo, digital broadcasting has the potential to support about 80 television services. We await the implementation of a transparent process to private players in line with the democratic dispensation envisaged under the new Constitution.
- The Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) which established BAZ, should be repealed to allow for a new and converged independent regulatory framework that establishes a clear separation of powers between government, regulators and service providers.
- The Declaration on the Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa states:
- Any public authority that exercises power in the areas of broadcasting or telecommunications regulation should be independent and adequately protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature.
- The appointments process for members of a regulatory body should be open and transparent, involve the participation of civil society and shall not be controlled by any particular party.
- Any public authority that exercises powers in areas of broadcast or telecommunications should be formally accountable to the public through a multi-party body.
- The current untenable regulatory framework is evidenced by the fact that the ZMC’s chief executive officer, Dr Tafataona Mahoso, is also the Chairperson of BAZ.
- The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), is hailed as a model independent regulator on the continent.
- Progressive media bodies such as MISA-Zimbabwe have legitimately argued that that the manner in which the Zimbabwean regulators namely the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) under the BSA, the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) under AIPPA, are constituted makes them susceptible to direct political interference.
- AIPPA through the ZMC imposes statutory regulation in breach of the Banjul Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa while BAZ is hostage to the whims and dictates of the Executive in violation of the African Charter on Broadcasting.
- These bodies need to be replaced by a truly independent communications regulator that will oversee these sectors. This new regulator’s independence must be guaranteed by the law and must have financial, structural and functional independence in order to regulate the sector effectively and impartially for the development of the ICT sector to be guaranteed.
- According to World Bank figures, access to cell phones in Zimbabwe has risen by 646 percent since 2008, by far the largest jump in the region. In 2008, only 13 percent of Zimbabweans had access to cell phones. Now, the penetration rate – the ration of cell phones to the population – stands at 104 percent.
- According to the 2012 Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Observatory Report , more people access the web via their cell phones in Zimbabwe than elsewhere in the world. Mobile internet access accounts for more than half of all web traffic in Zimbabwe at 41 percent.
- Increased access is not enough. There are privacy and security issues that remain a nagging challenge for the citizens of Zimbabwe. The country lacks cyber security, e-commerce and e-government laws to regulate the use of ICTs in Zimbabwe.
- Bills were developed during the Inclusive government and were ready for passage in Parliament where it not for clash of civilizations in the corridors of government.
The imperative for free and plural media
- A free press is the cornerstone of a truly democratic society.
- We turned a corner last year when as a nation we crafted our own Constitution that recognizes not only the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media but guarantees access to information as a fundamental human right.
- The reality might be different and unconstitutional, but for the first time, we have a Constitution that specifically demands that all state-owned media of communication must be impartial, afford a fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.
- What we have seen is reluctance by the government to abide by the dictates of the new Constitution which makes it imperative to create an environment conducive to free, diverse and plural media in the country.
- A government that prohibits journalists from holding a simple march on Press Freedom Day cannot be expected to guarantee press freedom every day.
Aligning laws to the new Constitution
- The Zanu PF Information Minister has been on a charm offensive, feigning sincerity on press freedom and rightly condemning the police for thwarting the march by journalists.
- While he has charmed individuals and media houses, the Minister must charm his colleagues in the corridors of power to charm the Constitution by sticking to it and aligning all the laws to the new supreme law of the land. Some of the laws would surely fall away as they are hostile to the spirit envisaged by the new Constitution. One such law is AIPPA, brainchild of the same Minister who is desperately trying to rebrand himself as a champion of press freedom.
- Other laws such as the POSA, the Interception of Communications Act, the Censorship laws, criminal defamation and other obnoxious legislation must be revisited in the wake of a new Constitution to align them to the expectations of a democratic society as envisaged under the new Constitution.
The Way Forward
- That government stops the needless harassment of journalists
- That government recognizes that criminal defamation has no place in the modern age. Freedom of expression must be de-criminised and supportive legislation to entrench freedom of expression must be put in place.
- That government aligns all media laws to the new Constitution
- That all communication entities are harmonized under the convergence framework
- Independent television licences must be issued as a matter of urgency
- That the ZBC operates as a public broadcaster and not a State-owned entity given direction by a political party
- That the Zanu PF government begins to implement the ICT policy and bills developed and adopted during the tenure of the inclusive government
- That Zimbabwe adopts a single voluntary media regulatory body as opposed to a statutory one in line with global and internal trends
- That the airwaves are truly freed and liberalized
- That the IMPI, while a noble idea, will tell us what is already known but has not been implemented.
- We demand a transparent process in the consideration of applications for broadcasting licenses to prevent the challenges of opaqueness