Proposed Self-Regulatory Media Council is Not Superfluous to Existing Media Commission, Says Misa

Regulation & Policy

In a press release on February 1st, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zimbabwe stated that they would like to set the record straight regarding recent misleading political statements pertaining to the principle of media self-regulation.

The convention discussed and scrutinised the proposed, nationally binding Code of Conduct for Zimbabwean journalists as well as the draft Constitution of the MCZ. One of the speakers during the convention was Leo Mugabe, House of Assembly member and chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications. In his remarks to the convention, Hon Mugabe seemed to suggest as matter of fact that the launch and success of the envisaged Media Council hinged on an amendment to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). AIPPA was promulgated in 2002 and created a statutory body, the Media and Information Commission (MIC).

He categorically stated that to proceed otherwise would result in a serious confrontation with the MIC, as both bodies would end up performing similar functions. A clear and objective analysis of AIPPA vis-à-vis the functions of the MIC shows that nothing could be further from the truth, as the difference between the statutory body and the proposed independent council is like day and night. MISA-Zimbabwe further notes that the repeal or any changes to AIPPA are not conditional on the launch of the MCZ. There is no law in Zimbabwe that stops the formation of a voluntary body that regulates the operations of the media, hence the wisdom of those that crafted the Banjul Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.

MISA-Zimbabwe is cognizant of the fact that the path to media self-regulation has historically been fraught with bitter struggles between the media industry and the government(s) that believe in a compliant and sycophantic media. MISA-Zimbabwe, however, dismisses statements by Mugabe that it is a political outfit. These statements are meant to divide the media sector, especially on the MCZ project.

When the government promulgated AIPPA in 2002, it defended statutory regulation, saying the media had failed to regulate its own affairs, hence the government had to step in to regulate the media sector. When the media then embarks on a self-regulatory mechanism, it cannot, therefore, be accused of being reactionary and confrontational as alluded by Mugabe. It must be noted that there were no consultations when AIPPA was passed into law.

In addition, the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press was adopted in 1991 at a UNESCO-sponsored conference. It states that an independent press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation. "Independent" in this context means a press independent from governmental, political or economic control, or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals. The Declaration envisages a scenario where self-regulation creates an environment that is conducive for the promotion of a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

Article 21 of the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport (2001), signed by all Heads of States in the SADC Region, obliges member states to "encourage the establishment or strengthening of codes of ethics by various sectors of the media through the creation of an enabling environment for the formulation of such frameworks." Encouragement is the opposite of imposition; i.e., using the force of law. Under AIPPA, four newspapers have been closed. No self-regulatory mechanism will descend so hard and vindictively on its own constituency.