African editors forum warns Zim media reforms could revive censorship

The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) is concerned over the amendment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission Act and a proposed media practitioners bill, saying this could undermine press freedom.

The legislation is aimed at media co-regulation and at professionalising Zimbabwean media.

This was announced in a media statement by SAEF secretary general Joseph Ailonga last week.

Ailonga says the cabinet principles, if enacted, would further entrench statutory regulation of Zimbabwean media and “smuggle back into law clauses from the repealed Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa)”.

“SAEF implores the Zimbabwe government to reconsider the proposed position in order to enhance press freedoms in the country and to ensure that the agreed co-regulation principle by government and the media sector is properly implemented.

“Under the recently announced cabinet principles, the government indicated that it would set up a statutory Media Council of Zimbabwe to regulate media conduct,”Ailonga says.

He says the cabinet principles are in direct contrast with the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum’s position on co-regulation.

Ailonga says SAEF supports the view that the existing complaints handling mechanism and code of conduct are effective and should form the basis of any other structure “that could emerge as a result of this law-making process”.

“This is the same position of MAZ, which reaffirms in its position paper its commitment to self-regulation as the most democratic regulatory framework, but subscribes to the consensus position of co-regulation reached between government and media stakeholders,” Ailonga says.

He says the forum supports the MAZ’s position on co-regulation in full and warns that proceeding with the cabinet principles would be against the principles of co-regulation agreed on by the government and the media.

Setting up the statutory council would revive the abhorred Aippa, repealed by the Zimbabwean government when the second republic came into office, he says.

Ailonga says this is against the government’s media reform principles.

The forum urges the Zimbabwean government to undertake a broad consultative process to reach a common position on the democratic implementation of co-regulation.

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