On World Press Freedom Day, human rights lawyers call for reform of media laws ahead of elections

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins the rest of the world in marking World Press Freedom Day and reiterates the obligation of government to align media laws to the Constitution ahead of general elections.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day is commemorated under the theme “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”. It is a significant day dedicated to pay tribute to media practitioners and celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom. The 2018 theme highlights the importance of creating an enabling operating and legal environment for press freedom and puts the role of the judiciary under the spotlight.

Press freedom is a requirement for establishing and maintaining a democratic society and can only be sustained when freedom of expression is protected.

While ZLHR appreciates the enactment of the 2013 Constitution that provides for freedom of expression, freedom of the media and access to information, ZLHR is saddened by the reality on the ground.

Hostile provisions of Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), the Entertainment and Censorship Control Act, the Interception of Communications Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Official Secrets Act among other repressive laws have not been repealed or aligned to the Constitution.

The application of these laws, continues to hinder the ability of people to access diverse information that enables them to meaningfully participate and make informed choices and decisions on issues of governance, political, social and economic issues that have a bearing on their welfare.

Attacks on journalists and other media practitioners through arbitrary detention, malicious arrests, prosecution or brutal physical assaults, arbitrary confiscation of equipment negatively impacts on their ability to gather and objectively impart information without fear or favour.

ZLHR is further concerned, that government continues to pay lip service to voluntary commitments made during the United Nations Human Rights Council-led Universal Periodic Mechanism in November 2016. The government which was represented by President Emmerson Mnangagwa (in his capacity as Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs) accepted pertinent recommendations (made by United Nations member states such as Namibia, Canada, Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark) to enhance press freedom by aligning laws with the Constitution, ensuring pluralism, unbiased local media and removing restrictions on local radio stations.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also made several recommendations in the case of Scanlen and Holderness v Republic of Zimbabwe that include:

  • repealing section 79 & 80 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
  • decriminalising offences relating to accreditation and the practice of journalism
  • adopting a framework providing for self-regulation of journalists
  • broadly bringing the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in line with human rights instruments

Sadly, almost ten years since the resolution with recommendations was adopted, these reforms remain outstanding.

Ahead of the 2018 harmonised general elections, ZLHR urges the government to:

  • Fully align all media laws with the Constitution, implementing all outstanding law reform recommendations made by regional and international human rights bodies;
  • Urgently remove restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information and guarantee freedom after speech;
  • Stop interfering with the operations and the practice of journalism through imposition of administrative requirements;
  • Liberalise the airwaves and licence community radio stations.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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