CPJ condemns pending media bill

New York, January 7, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns legislation before Zimbabwe’s Parliament that would create a rigid system to register and regulate media companies and the journalists who work for them. Parliament is expected to vote on the legislation this week.

The bill, called the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, would create a new Media and Information Commission with enormous powers to control all media within Zimbabwe.

According to the bill, every media company would need to register with the commission in order to do business in Zimbabwe. In turn, the commission would have the power to accredit all journalists working for those companies. In addition, the commission would write a code governing the professional conduct of journalists and would be authorized to suspend, fine, or otherwise punish any journalist who violates that code.

The commission would have similar authority to punish media companies, whose equipment could be seized by the state if they violate commission rules.

“If enacted, this bill would formalize the Zimbabwean government’s already considerable ability to stifle independent journalism by giving officials full authority to determine who can work as a journalist, and under what conditions,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

“The administration of President Robert Mugabe is already one of the world’s harshest governments when it comes to press freedom, and this new bill is a blatant effort to make all Zimbabwean media subservient to his regime,” Cooper said.

The lengthy information bill, drafted largely in secret, follows government charges that some local reporters and foreign correspondents in Zimbabwe are “terrorists.”

Authorities have said that the proposed legislation is aimed at keeping “dangerous elements” out of the country. One “element” restricted from practicing journalism would be foreigners, since the bill says that only Zimbabwean citizens can be accredited as journalists or media owners.