Bulawayo residents and journalists on Tuesday took turns to slam some of the provisions on the proposed Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Bill which they described as both undemocratic and unconstitutional.
On August 9 this year, the government gazetted the ZMC Bill, one of the media Bills lined up to replace the repressive and widely discredited Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Presenting their views on the proposed Bill to the Prince Dubeko Sibanda chaired parliamentary Media committee, participants said the proposed Bill was a threat to the practice of journalism in the country.
They cited Section 10 (3) of the Bill which calls for the imprisonment of journalists in the event of ethical lapses.
“The imprisonment of journalists is against Section 61 of the constitution which guarantees journalists press freedom,” said a participant.
“If a journalist works under the fear that he or she is going to be imprisoned over ethical lapses, the likelihood of self -censorship is high.
“A journalist’s professional body like the Zimbabwe Voluntary Media Council (ZMC) should be given powers to discipline errant members of the profession.”
Another participant, Admire Kudita called for the pruning of the minister’s powers in the operations of the ZMC to avoid State interference.
“I am worried about the independence of ZMC under this proposed Bill. Section 7 of the Bill gives an individual, the minister, extensive powers in the appointment of the commission staff.
“Again, section 21 of the Bill gives the minister excessive powers in drafting and approval of regulations,” said Kudita.
He further submitted that the excessive powers of the minister were against the spirit of Chapter 12 institutions which are meant to strengthen democracy.
“I do not think we will be promoting democracy once an individual is given such excessive powers. The ZMC should in fact be accountable to parliament,” said Kudita.
The Chronicle Managing editor, Isaac Waniwa said the proposed Bill should create both a Co-Regulation and Self-Regulation environment.
“There is no provision that recognises the principle of media co-regulation. In my view, I think the ZMC and VMCZ can co-exist.
“VMCZ can play the role of professional conduct while the ZMC can remain doing things like accreditation and other administrative functions. To try to say we do not want ZMC is like moving a mountain because the body is already in the constitution,” said Waniwa.
A Magwegwe resident, Idah Moyo also expressed concern over Section 10 (4) which involves police in investigations on alleged breaches of media ethics.
“This provision suggests that the practice of journalism and communication activities can be criminalised.
“Moreover, this could also have a bearing on the ability of the Commission to act independently and solve matters in a civil manner. The Constitutional Court sometime struck off criminal defamation and the involvement of police in investigating complaints against journalism and communication activities suggest that the complaints or conduct is a criminal nature,” said Moyo.
One participant however defended the Bill saying wayward journalists should be imprisoned.
On Wednesday, the committee is visiting Masvingo before going to Mutare on Thursday.