Tue, 24 Oct 2017
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Draft Constituition: No Real Departure

The new draft constitution released recently which is a product of serious political negotiation between the former ruling ZANU PF party and the two MDCs does not provide a real departure from the traditional position where the right to free expression and media freedom are subjected to some qualification. It is worrying to imagine that in Chapter 4, sections 61 and 62, these rights are given and then a provision for qualification by a parliamentary act is put. Are we not going back to our old situation where our constitution gives on one hand while the legislature takes on the other?

The new draft constitution released recently which is a product of serious political negotiation between the former ruling ZANU PF party and the two MDCs does not provide a real departure from the traditional position where the right to free expression and media freedom are subjected to some qualification. It is worrying to imagine that in Chapter 4, sections 61 and 62, these rights are given and then a provision for qualification by a parliamentary act is put. Are we not going back to our old situation where our constitution gives on one hand while the legislature takes on the other?

What happened to the requirement of media reform before the holding of democratic elections? What reforms have we seen in the last one or two years? While the registration of new print media publications and the coming in of two commercial radio stations is very much welcome, it does not translate to real media reform that we are still anticipating where the three tier broadcasting system of the public broadcaster, commercial and community exists. Where is the community radio sector? Why do we still have an operating environment where victimization, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of journalists persist? Why have we remained with the same laws that have been used to “eat” what the constitution provides for? Why is freedom of expression which is an inalienable right, still criminalized in Zimbabwe?

I affirm that going for elections without real media reform will be folly on the part of all those who will vote and who will contest in that kind of election. The media plays a very important role in not only informing and educating the masses but it is the means through which they (masses) can express their feelings, thoughts and aspirations. If this important platform is taken away from them how do we expect the citizenry to actively participate in this important process without useful information. So, just as the constitutional reform process was important before the holding of democratic elections, media reform particularly broadcasting media reform is critical.

The public media which of late has been reduced not only to a political party propaganda tool but also a personal weapon for some elite politicians to fight their opponents should be democratized in the same manner. The ownership, editorial policy, and programming must be in the public interest as opposed to interest of a political party. The SADC rules and Guidelines on the holding of democratic elections are very clear on the role played by the media in a democratic society. Let’s allow that to prevail. So, cdes, hold on on elections, we want the media to be reformed first.

- Kudzai Kwangwari (Programs Officer)

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