The IMT prioritises the alignment of media laws to the Constitution ahead of the 2018 harmonised Elections
The Inter Ministerial Taskforce on the Alignment of Legislation to the Constitution (IMT) is currently prioritizing the provision of technical support to Line Ministries that administer laws that are critical for the creation of an enabling environment for the holding of free, fair and credible elections.
Amongst these laws are the media laws namely, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the proposed Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Bill and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). These laws are critical in facilitating the enjoyment of ‘freedom of expression’, ‘media freedom’ and ‘access to information’ which are fundamental in ensuring that persons make decisions and participate in issues that affect their day to day lives from an informed point of view. The IMT is currently providing technical support to the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcast Services to identify gaps in the media laws and to propose recommendations to ensure that the laws are aligned to the Constitution. Below is a brief overview of the major alignment issues that exist in these laws:
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [Chapter 10:27] (AIPPA)
AIPPA currently provides a framework for the exercise of the right to information which right is critical in that it facilitates the enjoyment of other rights, including the right to vote and to otherwise participate in electoral processes. Amongst other constitutional issues, AIPPA has a limited scope of the right to information. For example, it limits the right to what is contained in records only, and to information which is in the custody or control of public bodies only, therefore exempting private entities from the requirement to disclose information pertinent for the exercise or protection of rights as provided for in section 61(2) of the Constitution. It also makes a general exclusion of non-citizens, non-residents and foreign agencies from accessing all classes of information which is unconstitutional in respect of section 62(2) of the Constitution which guarantees “every person” including the Zimbabwean media, the right of access to “any” information in so far as it is required for the exercise or protection of a right.
Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill (ZMC)
The proposed Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill provides for the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) which is established in Section 248 of the Constitution. The ZMC is a critical institution for the promotion and enjoyment of the ‘right of media freedom’ and ‘freedom of expression.’ The ZMC Bill should amongst other things, outline the functions of the ZMC as well as how these will be implemented. The ZMC also has a promotional role in respect of the right of access to information, wherein it’s mandated to ensure fair and wide access to information. The establishment of the ZMC Bill should among other things, create a framework within which the ZMC will promote and develop freedom of the media as well as promotion of fair and wide access to information for the people of Zimbabwe. It should also empower the ZMC to promote fair competition and diversity in the media as well as enforce good practices and ethics in the media. The media plays a critical role in disseminating information and this is all the more critical in this electoral period thus it is important that there be a legal framework that outlines the parameters and rights within which the media in Zimbabwe will operate and be regulated.
Broadcasting Services Act [Chapter 12:06] (BSA)
The alignment of the BSA to the Constitution is also critical to the holding of a free, fair and credible elections because broadcast media is one of the most widely and cheaply accessible mediums of communication. It provides a critical platform for debate and source of information which due to its wide accessibility, is critical for disseminating public interest information. It is thus critical that the legal framework governing the regulation of the broadcasting industry, should be in line with the scope of freedom of the media and freedom of establishment of broadcasters which is guaranteed in section 61(3) and (4). The Act among other things outlines licensing and programming restrictions which need to be in line with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of establishment of broadcasters and the permissible restriction of media freedoms subject to state licensing procedures that are necessary to regulate the airwaves and which are independent of control by government or other interests. The Act also establishes the broadcasting regulator the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe whose appointment and composition has to conform to constitutional principles including those promoting good governance in state institutions such as BAZ.
The successful alignment of these laws will ensure the promotion of the rights and media freedoms as provided for in the Constitution; including ‘freedom of expression’, ‘media freedom’ and ‘access to information’ which are fundamental in promoting informed decision making as well as democratic participation of the citizenry in issues that affect them. The IMT urges all stakeholders to play their role in ensuring the expedited alignment of these laws ahead of the harmonized 2018 Elections.