Maputo — Any future regulatory body for the Mozambican media must be fully independent of the government, warned representatives of the media at a hearing on Monday organised by the Commission on Social Affairs of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
The Assembly has on its agenda for its current sitting a new media law, replacing the 1991 press law, and a separate law on broadcasting.
There already exists a media regulatory body, the Higher Mass Media Council (CSCS), which is enshrined in the Mozambican constitution. Replacing it with something else, as the draft laws seem to suggest, would therefore require a constitutional amendment.
The current chairperson of the CSCS, Tomas Vieira Mario, cited in Tuesday's issue of the independent newsheet "Mediafax", said it would be unacceptable for the government to create a media regulatory body by decree - the body with the democratic legitimacy to set up such a regulator would be the Assembly itself.
"In our understanding, the regulator of press freedom, and of the freedom of expression is a regulator of the conditions for the exercise of fundamental rights", he said. Such a body should be regulated by the Constitution, and only parliament has the authority to alter anything in the Constitution.
Other media representatives at the meeting agreed with Vieira Mario that the government should have nothing to do with regulating the media. The Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) insisted that whatever body comes to regulate the media, must be completely independent of political power.
The draft media law also establishes a system of licensing journalists: nobody will be allowed to practice journalism without a professional licence, an idea which seems to have been plagiarised from Portuguese law.
Most democracies do not demand the licensing of journalists - yet many Mozambican journalists, including the leadership of the National Union of Journalists (SNJ), applaud the idea. SNJ General Secretary Eduardo Constantino told the meeting that, with the introduction of a professional licence, "false journalists will stop swindling people".
As for who will attribute the professional licence, Constantino said a commission, independent of the government, will be set up that will ensure compliance with professional rules, and anyone who disobeys will be stripped of their licence. He said this would also ensure that nobody can be a journalist and a press attache for an organisation at the same time, since the two jobs "are incompatible".