Zimbabwe journalists urge end to tough media laws

KARIBA, Zimbabwe (Reuters) – Zimbabwean journalists want the country's new unity government to scrap tough media laws which critics say President Robert Mugabe has used to muzzle his opponents.

The journalists’ recommendations follow demands by Western donors who want to see political and media reforms in Zimbabwe before they will provide aid.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party adopted regulations seven years ago imposing strict registration conditions for private news organisations, barring foreign journalists from basing themselves in the country and authorising almost routine arrests of journalists accused of reporting "falsehoods".

In recommendations to the government formed by Mugabe and his old rival Morgan Tsvangirai three months ago, a media consultative convention said the laws were undemocratic and violated the right to free expression.

"We recommend that AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) be replaced by two laws, a Freedom of Information Act, which will open up the media environment, and a Media Practitioners’ Registration Act, making registration of journalists a formality," the conference said.

Western donors are demanding that the unity government carry out wider political and media reforms before committing funding to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery programme.

Deputy Media, Information and Publicity Minister Jameson Timba told convention participants that their recommendations would be considered alongside other contributions from other stakeholders.

"The government will make the final decision, but it is going to invite other players, including those who are not here, to submit their views," Timba, a member of Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said. 

MDC officials say Tsvangirai was on Monday due to meet Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara to try to iron out issues outstanding under their power-sharing pact, including the swearing in of an MDC deputy minister.

Mugabe has yet to swear in Roy Bennett, a senior white MDC member, as deputy Agriculture Minister. Bennett was locked up in prison for a month in February on charges of plotting terrorism.