There was extensive debate on the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill in the National Assembly yesterday (Thursday), with legislators from across the political divide, advocating for conferment of greater role to media players in the regulation of the industry.
The National Assembly agreed that police have no role in assisting a media regulatory body in investigating complaints given that the Constitutional Court nullified criminal defamation law, thus leaving civil remedies available to a complainant.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, who was steering the Bill on behalf of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, subsequently conceded that there was no harm in removing the Clause that allowed the police to assist in an investigation after protracted debate.
Clause 10 (4) of the Bill on the conduct of investigations provide as follows: “The Commission may request the assistance of the police during an investigation, hearing or inquiry.”
Makonde MP, Cde Kindness Paradza (Zanu PF), said the Clause was retrogressive in that the same clause was in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which was repealed.
“We already have other laws that deal with criminal issues. So why include the police? We agreed during consultations with the ministry that we do not want this clause. It is a bad Clause and against our foreign policy. We had a series of meetings with the ministry (officials) who agreed with stakeholders but it is the drafters who are now retaining this Clause,” said Cde Paradza, who chairs Parliament’s portfolio committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Harare East MP, Mr Tendai Biti (MDC-Alliance), said the Clause stifled the freedom of the media and expression which was decriminalised by the Constitutional Court.
“If the media publishes something that is defamatory, it is not a criminal offence. It’s a case between two parties where civil remedies are available. You cannot therefore involve the police on a case that has been decriminalised,” said Mr Biti.
Earlier on, Minister Ziyambi said it was not mandatory that the police be involved but optional, hence he did not see anything wrong.
After protracted debate, Minister Ziyambi conceded to have the Clause removed saying he felt that there was no harm in doing so.
Later on, there was heated debate on proposed amendments by Justice Ziyambi who sought to include a Clause where media complaints would be directed to an association that was recognised by the Zimbabwe Media Commission, an umbrella body that superintends the industry.
The proposal sought to classify conditions under which the Commission might allow self-regulation for practitioners with respect to complaints against them.
In his submission, Cde Paradza said they had agreed that the media industry should have co-regulation where practitioners had a role to play together with the Government.
He said their wish was to allow the media to have total self-regulation as was the case with other professions such as lawyers and doctors, but as a compromise, they had agreed on co-regulation and not a situation where the Government had influence on the process.
Cde Paradza said allowing associations to adjudicate over complaints would lead to fragmentation of the profession given the existing polarisation.
“This Bill does not capture what we agreed. Parliament deployed us to countries such as Sweden and Denmark to study the regulatory environment. Besides the definition of the media being too broad, we cannot have a person who writes an essay or post messages on twitter calling himself or herself a journalist.
The proposed Clause talks of an association where those doing dramas on television might even end up being called journalists. The President instructed this Parliament to reform. We want the Zimbabwe Media Council, comprising media professionals to regulate the profession,” said Cde Paradza.
Rushinga MP, Cde Tendai Nyabani (Zanu PF), concurred with Cde Paradza saying it was agreed during consultations that there be co-regulation through the Zimbabwe Media Council where practitioners played a critical role.
In his contribution, Mr Biti said it was critical to allow media practitioners regulate their peers to test their professionalism.
In the end, Minister Ziyambi adjourned debate to allow further consultations on how to deal with the Clause and other issues in the Bill.