The imperative need for Zim media law reforms

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Tabani Moyo,Political analyst

In the rush to “shut down” the year, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services (which ironically does not have a minister) sought to shape the agenda on media law reforms for the preceding year through an interview in the Zimbabwe Independent of December 18 2017. The interview fell short of casting a dark spell on the imperative need for media law and policy reforms which the generality of Zimbabweans yearn for.

The position which Charamba sought to sponsor through the interview was that “there is no hurry in Africa”, hence the need to focus on the impact of changes that are likely to alter the industry. This is ironic since change is ad infinitum and variable. In this regard he was quoted as saying:

“The only problem that I have is that the agitation for media reforms is prompted by transient calculations of elections due in six or seven months. I am not an elected officer, I am a bureaucrat and my reflex is to build a law that endures, a law that competently encompasses a sector.

“I cannot proceed on the basis of transient calculations. The state of Zimbabwe subsists ad infinitum and the state is much more than institutions that make it. There are seismic changes happening in the media sector. It is futile hurrying to write a law which will prove perishable only the morning after.”

Though the position is short on strategic thinking and long on sentence construction, one can only remind the permanent secretary to remain grounded and in touch with the national pulse and the industry’s propositions. The industry has, through various fora, expressed reservations and resolved that the two laws under the purview of his ministry are archaic and out of sync with 21st Century regulatory frameworks. The permanent secretary is free to express his personal views on the subject matter, but must appreciate that on numerous occasions when he spoke on behalf of the government, he conceded that both the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) are obsolete and no longer fit for purpose in light of both local and international developments which the nation cannot ignore.

One such occasion was on February 18 2016 when Charamba appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media Information and Broadcasting Services at 10.36am representing the parent ministry. He spoke under oath for a good one-and-a-half hours, articulating why the laws were no longer fit for purpose. In this regard, Charamba outlined the compelling six key emerging issues as:

need to comply with the new (2013) constitution;

developments in the broadcasting and print sectors;

the macro-technological changes;

changing societal tastes; and

the need for conformity to the strategic goals of the nation and convergence of technological and global factors on information.

“… we have a new constitution which we embraced in 2013. It’s the new rules book to which everything else must cohere to,” Charamba said.

“Developments in the broadcasting sector have made the laws inadequate or inappropriate or simply odd, that’s compelling reason enough to make a second look at those pieces of legislation. Those six factors make a compelling case for the review of those two pieces of legislation.”

Breaking with the past?

It is not common practice for the government’s mouthpiece to be seen to be blowing “hot and cold” and presenting a picture that the government is insincere on its pledges towards reforming the media laws and policies in line with both the constitution and international best practice.

On December 2 2017, the Advisor to the President of the Republic, Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa, noted that Aippa and other laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) had no place in a democratic state. This he said was in line with the need to break with the past and build towards the mantra “New Dawn! New Era!”

The permanent secretary is scoring own goals by peddling such an archaic proposition which is premised on the fact that “we can’t change, because of impending changes” in the industry! It should be more apparent that faced with such an ever-changing environment, there is need to constantly review the policy frameworks which were written almost two decades ago.

A general election is a critical ingredient towards the strengthening of national development and defining the national objectives. To belittle such a critical process as not deserving to be conducted under modern and competitive laws that meet international standards is honestly taking Zimbabweans for fools.

In essence, Charamba should know better that reforming media laws can be low hanging fruits and a significant body language for an administration which came to power through a military coup in its attempts to spruce up its image.
It is therefore deplorable for the government’s spokesperson to speak in favour of undermining the constitution of the country as he did. This perpetuates the thinking that the new government is interested in entrenching military rule rather than nourishing the already heavily compromised tentacles of democracy and constitutionalism.

By the way, on January 27 2014, in an unsolicited interview with the state-owned Herald, Charamba said he will not continue in civil service if former president Mugabe was to exit the political scene. To be specific he highlighted that: “My real wish is not to be a day longer in government after the President’s retirement because whoever comes must be able to select their own team.”

I ask this question with purity of intentions since it builds on the reputation of the office of the spokesperson of any institution in general and that of the government specifically. The office bearer(s) should not be seen to be self-contradictory or misleading as it squanders on the credibility of their words.

It is my hope that the permanent secretary reviews the position he made as it negatively dents the government’s spirit of breaking with the past which is being championed by the new president. In essence, I am inspired by the approach taken by presidential advisor Mutsvangwa on the need to move with speed to repeal repressive, restrictive and archaic media laws in Zimbabwe.

Moyo is a communications and marketing consultant based in Harare. He writes in his personal capacity. — This was first published by the Zimbabwe Independent