The conference, to be held under the theme, ‘Towards an Open, Tolerant, and Responsible Media Environment’is aimed at reviewing Zimbabwe’s current media environment and policies in order to guide the Government’s media policy.
The Minister of Media, Information and Publicity will give the official opening address while members of the Joint Implementation and Monitoring Committee (JOMIC) Ministers Professor Welshman Ncube, Nelson Chinamasa and Chagonda are expected to outline articles relevant to freedom of expression in the Global Political Agreement.
It is also expected that various media stakeholders shall make presentations on various themes relating to the media.
Media in Zimbabwe operate in one of the most repressive environments on the continent. Media workers are regularly harassed, detained and beaten by the police, with the cumulative effect that self-censorship prevails in both the media and civil society in Zimbabwe.
The Internet has generally escaped government censorship because of its relatively low user group, but restrictive media laws have been introduced that can be used against Internet communications.
One of the first such laws was the Posts and Telecommunications Act of 2000. This act maintains that if, in the opinion of the President, it is necessary in the interests of national security or the maintenance of law and order, s/he may give a directive that any class of communications transmitted by means of a cellular telecommunication or telecommunications service (including email) may be intercepted or monitored in a manner specified in the directive (Section 98 (2) (b)). It is unknown if this has been used yet.
Many laws that deal with issues of broadcasting and public order were enacted to limit freedom of expression of the media including the Broadcasting Services Act, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Commercialisation Act and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
POSA is particularly notorious as it makes it a criminal offence to publish anything “likely to cause alarm or despondency” (and carries a prison sentence of up to seven years). The government blocks certain sites using legislation such as POSA.
Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), is currently one of the harshest media laws in the world, under which journalists can be jailed for two years for working without a licence.
The Criminal Codification Act imposes sentences of up to 20 years in jail on journalists or other citizens, convicted of publishing false information or statements that are prejudicial to the state.
In April 2000, the Broadcast Services Act was promulgated by the President to end officially the monopoly of the government-operated ZBC and launch the liberalization of the broadcast spectrum. The Broadcast Services Act was passed by parliament on a fast-track schedule to authorise, as requested by the High Court, the launching of private media.
It, however, imposed severe restrictions on new broadcasters at both national and at community level, leaving broad discretion to the state to decide who may operate a private broadcasting channel.
The Act placed effective control of news broadcasters in the hands of the Minister of Information. In addition the Act imposed an arbitrary 75 percent local content threshold and restricted foreign investment in the media.
The government continued to endorse a broadcasting monopoly even after the Act was passed. In October 2000, a Presidential Decree introduced the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures.
In November 2000, the President announced the setting up of a broadcasting regulatory authority, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), members of which would be appointed directly by the Information Minister.