INFORMATION minister Jonathan Moyo has said criminal defamation - which has seen media organisations face criminal prosecution in addition to civil action for libel - must go because it had now fallen victim to "powerful or vested and well-connected political interests".
In an interview with the Sunday Mail, Moyo said provisions relating to criminal defamation had caused "more harm than good" and would be repealed following the necessary consultations with the media industry.
The minister also said the constitutionality of the relevant provision was also questionable under the country's new charter, adding there was potential conflict with guarantees relating to freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
"I honestly believe that the time has come to remove criminal defamation from our system of justice in the national interest," he said.
"As a ministry that oversees the media industry which is the most affected by criminal defamation, we are persuaded and therefore convinced that the days of having criminal defamation in our statutes now lie in the past.
"Indeed, and although we are not the authority with the power to interpret the law, we nevertheless believe that the constitutionality of criminal defamation under our country's new constitutional dispensation is questionable, especially given the inherent vagueness of the criteria which are supposed to be used to decide whether the defamation was sufficiently serious to justify the invocation of the criminal sanction."
He however, said repeal of the provision must be accompanied by the strengthening of civil litigation so that those aggrieved with media reports can still expect some form of recourse under the law.
"If we are to remove criminal defamation from our statutes, as I believe we must, then we should without doubt complement that necessary step by strengthening our civil laws with respect to defamation," said Moyo.
"We should enact needful legislation to get the courts to take defamation more seriously in civil litigation in line with our new Constitution which entrenches the protection of personal reputation and the inherent dignity and worth of a human being.
"Equally important, there should be statutory measures to prompt the courts to award exemplary damages in civil litigation involving criminal defamation. But make no mistake about it - the time for criminal defamation to go has come."
Moyo also called for an end to polarisation in the media which has mirrored the political divide between Zanu PF and the main opposition.
"I think all of us, Zimbabweans at home and in the Diaspora, can see that for whatever reasons the media across the board has been used to polarise the nation by creating a false divide between 'us' versus 'them' and by creating dodgy labels like 'public media'; 'state media'; 'independent media'; 'private media' and so forth," he said.
"In my humble opinion, these labels are popular but they are neither useful nor correct. The untold truth is that Zimbabwe has one mainstream media with different owners, different editorial policies but with common industry interests which have remained unaddressed because of needless polarised perspectives. "We now need to unpack the common media industry interests in order to get media houses to start functionally and strategically collaborating with one another as industry or a sector. It is for this reason that we are engaging the media and we are happy that the prospects of finding each other in the national interest are better than good."