Media groups in Zimbabwe have slammed the establishment of a Media Council that they have warned will further restrict the work of independent journalists and press houses across the country.
The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), whose board includes notorious media 'hangman' Tafataona Mahoso, launched the new media council on Thursday. The commission appointed 13 councillors, including the Zimpapers CEO Justin Mutasa and Happison Muchechetere, the CEO of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.
Journalist Henry Muradzikwa chairs the council and he has pledged to close the gap between the state and private media.
"There is a dichotomy between the state and private media. We must play our part not to perpetuate that division," he said at the launch of the council on Thursday.
Also speaking at the launch, ZMC chairman Godfrey Majonga said media stakeholders had called for the inclusion of specific clauses that guaranteed freedom of expression and access to information in the new Constitution.
But independent media groups, like the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, have raised concern. The MMPZ said in a statement that it is "opposed to the establishment of this council on the grounds that it is an instrument of the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which continues to be used to stifle all media activity in Zimbabwe."
"This Act purports to regulate media activity, but in fact controls who can and cannot practice journalism and criminalizes offenders. The establishment of the media council will give the Commission additional powers to punish registered journalists and media houses who violate an as-yet-to-be-declared Code of Conduct. Such a repressive law severely diminishes Zimbabweans' rights to freedom of expression and is unnecessary in a democratic society," the MMPZ said.
These concerns have been echoed by the Voluntary Media Council, an independent group set up by media players in Zimbabwe. The Voluntary group's Executive Director, Takura Zhangazha, told SW Radio Africa that the new council was "established in terms of AIPPA and therefore its role is to criminalise media." He said they "do not, in any way, recognise the legitimacy of this council."
He said the ZMC, together with repressive laws like AIPPA, "only limit and do not expand freedom of expression."
"The concerns are that the media reform programme of the unity government has been primarily cosmetic and it has not dealt with fundamental issues of true democratic reform. That means that ahead of elections, the fundamental attitude of the security services will be the same, seeking to arrest journalists, seeking to criminalise the media profession, because the laws are still the same," Zhangazha said.