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GPA demands a genuine commitment towards achieving freedom of expression in Zimbabwe

Focusing on Clauses 19.1(d) and (e)

Sokwanele's ZIG Watch project has been documenting violations of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed between Zimbabwe's three main political parties. Through this article, Sokwanele aims to familiarise our readership with sub-clauses 19.1(d) and (e). These are two of five sub-clauses falling under Article XIX of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed on 15 September 2008. Article XIX sets out to recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression and the role of the media in a multi-party democracy.

Article XIX, Clause 19.1 (d) that steps be taken to ensure that the public media provides balanced and fair coverage to all political parties for their legitimate political activities [and] Clause (e) that the public and private media shall refrain from using abusive language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred or that unfairly undermines political parties and other organisations. To this end, the inclusive government shall ensure that appropriate measures are taken to achieve this objective.

Accountability and Responsibility

Under the GPA, the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity has been allocated to Zanu PF. The new Minister of Information is Webster Shamu who has been described as "instrumental in helping to turn the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation into a centre of hate speech and blatant propaganda."[fn]Two Faces of Information Minister Webster Shamu (http://changezimbabwe.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1973...) , ChangeZimbabwe.com, 17 February, 2009[/fn]

Responsibility for ensuring compliance with the GPA also rests with the Deputy Minister of Information, Jameson Timba from the MDC-Tsvangirai party. It's a massive task: according to Freedom House's latest report on global press freedom[fn]Map of Press Freedom 2008: (Zimbabwe(http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&country=7523&year=2008), Freedom House[/fn], Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea are the three worst countries for Press Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Zimbabwe disgracefully ranks among the ten worst countries in the world.

The GPA commitment to free expression in the context of Zimbabwe's law

Article XIX begins commendably in that it recognises: "the importance of the right of freedom of expression and the role of the media in a multi-party democracy". However, it is important to note that sub-clause (a) of Article XIX states that applications for re-registration and registration will be processed "by the appropriate authorities" in terms of both the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) as well as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

In 2000, Capital Radio won the right in the Supreme Court to open the country's first independent radio station. However, this was shut down at gunpoint after just six days. In response to the legal challenge to its broadcasting monopoly, the (Mugabe) regime enacted the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), which brought about the establishment of the regulatory board, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), which has not licensed a single private station.[fn]Work on media reforms to start in a fortnight (http://www.swradioafrica.com/News070409/Media070409.htm), SW Radio Africa, 7 April, 2009[/fn]

The Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act (AIPPA) was signed by President Mugabe in February 2002. The main provisions of the law give the government extensive powers to control the media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the "abuse of free expression." AIPPA, along with the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA), have both been used to harass and intimidate journalists. Section 15 of POSA and Section 80 of AIPPA criminalise the publication of "inaccurate" information, and both laws have been used to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute journalists. The interpretation of what is or is not "accurate" is invariably politically motivated and designed to favour Zanu-PF advantage.

AIPPA also created a Media and Information Commission (MIC) which mainly functioned to restrict freedom of expression by overseeing, among other things, journalist accreditation.[fn]Freedom of Information: Zimbabwe (http://www.freedominfo.org/countries/zimbabwe.htm), FreedomInfo.org [/fn] In January this year, for example, the MIC imposed prohibitive fees on local journalists who worked for the foreign media. Under the new terms they would be required to pay US$1,000 in application fees, and a further US$3,000 upon accreditation.[fn]Zimbabwe media fees slammed (http://www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=914073), The Times, 7 January, 2009[/fn] The move was widely condemned and interpreted as an unsubtle attempt to limit the number of journalists in Zimbabwe reporting through media outlets that truly endorsed the principles of 'freedom of expression'. Journalists working without accreditation face up to two years imprisonment in Zimbabwe's hell-hole prisons.

Ongoing restrictions, censorship and refusal to accept MDC advertisements

On 2 March, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) stated they were "extremely disturbed" by the actions of the state-owned Herald newspaper after its editor refused to publish in its entirety a communiqué drafted by civil society organisations. The communiqué, scheduled for the 27 February edition of the Herald, announced the establishment of a Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism on the implementation of the GPA. The two paragraphs censored by the editor read: "Deeply concerned at the continued assault on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe, in particular human rights defenders and legitimate political activists" and "In solidarity with our colleagues and others who remain unjustly incarcerated at various prisons, remand facilities and hospitals around Zimbabwe." This refusal also violates Article 19.1 (d).[fn]Herald Censors CSO's Communique (http://www.thezimbabwean.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id...), The Zimbabwean, 2 March, 2009[/fn]

Later in the month, despite the fact that state-run Zimpapers, which publishes both the Herald (Harare) and the Chronicle (Bulawayo) remained cash strapped and had failed to pay employees their salaries for two months, management refused to publish a 12-page MDC supplement. This was a congratulatory advertisement on the appointment of MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. The refusal breached Article 19.1 (d). State-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings has also continued to shun MDC activities. Conversely, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) noted mid March that Zanu PF functionaries continued to enjoy unfettered publicity from the public media.[fn]Cash-strapped Zimpapers ordered to refuse Tsvangirai adverts (http://www.zimeye.org/?p=2662), ZimEye,6 March, 2009 [/fn]

Breaching 19.1 (d) of the GPA by inciting hostility and political intolerance

On 12 February, the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported that MDC-T Secretary-General Tendai Biti, who is Minister of Finance in the transitional government, was suing President Mugbe's spokesman, George Charamba, Zimpapers and two journalists working for the Herald for defamation. Biti claimed in court papers that the Herald had published articles implying he was "a power-hungry politician", that he was placing "self-interest above that of the Zimbabwean nation" and that he was scuttling the formation of the transitional government for selfish and personal interests.[fn]Biti sues Charamba, Zimpapers (http://www.thezimbabweindependent.com/), The Zimbabwe Independent, 12 February, 2009[/fn]

During the inauguration of President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, state radio persistently referred to Mugabe as "comrade" and to Tsvangirai as "mister", deliberately implying he was not a supporter of the struggle for independence - a contentious allegation in Zimbabwe, one regularly touted by Zanu PF.[fn]Tsvangirai finally in power - on paper at least, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/12/tsvangirai-inauguration-zimb...), The Guardian, 12 February, 2009[/fn]

In March, ten days after the controversial car crash which killed Prime Minister Tsvangirai's wife, Susan, and injured him, the Herald attempted to implicate the Commercial Farmers' Union in the crash. For example, the article noted that on the day of the accident, white commercial farmers were at the scene before the Prime Minister's own close people knew what had happened, and that they had filmed and photographed the wreckage. Irresponsible reporting of this nature breaches Article 19.1 (e).[fn]CFU implicated in Tsvangirai crash (http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=1809&cat=1), The Herald, 16 March, 2009[/fn]

Despite the fact that the GPA states under Article XIX: "Concerned that the failure to issue licences under the Broadcasting Services Act to alternative broadcasters might have given rise to external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe", the country's prohibitive licencing regulations have not been repealed. As a consequence, Zimbabwe Community Radio announced in February that they would start broadcasting from the United Arab Emirates because they did not have a licence and the Broadcasting Act of Zimbabwe (BAZ) had never given them a platform to apply.[fn]New Radio Broadcasts from Emirates (http://www.thezimbabwestandard.com/entertainment/19825-new-radio-broadca...), The Standard, 28 February, 2009[/fn]

In a very telling move which thoroughly undermines the spirit of Article XIX of the GPA, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings reshuffled its news production team towards the end of March. Zanu PF loyalists were given managerial positions while suspected MDC sympathisers and experienced journalists were sidelined. For example, a senior army official was appointed as General Manager for Finance and Administration and the ZBC's Editor-in-Chief and chief propagandist was promoted to General Manager of News and Current Affairs. A little known policeman was appointed Assistant News Editor.[fn]Reshuffle At State-Owned Broadcasting Station (http://www.radiovop.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6093&I...), RadioVOP, 23 April, 2009[/fn]

How sincere is the desire for media reform in Zimbabwe?

In February this year, Robert Mugabe described Western donor demands to reform the media as "nonsense".[fn]Regional ministers seek donor help for Zimbabwe (http://www.reuters.com/article/homepageCrisis/idUSLR256666._CH_.2400), Reuters, 27 February, 2009[/fn] Webster Shamu has very recently dismissed criticisms against the press in Zimbabwe - in a statement on 18 May, Shamu said:

The Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity notes with satisfaction the great editorial balance and sensitivity with which the public media has tackled issues since the launch of the inclusive Government in February early this year.

In spite of real resource constraints and the often overbearing and conflicting expectations on them from certain quarters, these editors and management in the public media have held their own, exhibiting exceptional professionalism which has shown by way of well-ranked, fair, balanced and deeply sensitive coverage and presentation of news... (our emphasis)[fn]Zimbabwe Government claims there is Media Freedom (http://www.zimtelegraph.com/news_article.php?cat=23&id=713), The Zimbabwe Telegraph, 19 May, 2009[/fn]

The Minister's comments came as a response to an MDC-T's position that objected to "the continued partial and unequal reporting by the State media".[fn]Resolutions of the 2nd National Council Meeting held on the 17th of May 2009, Flamboyant Hotel, Masvingo - MDC-T Press Release (http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/4141), Sokwanele – This is Zimbabwe, 18 May, 2009[/fn] Shamu declared: "The Ministry decries and dismisses as invalid and cynical weekend criticism levelled against the public media by one of the parties to the inclusive Government". Minister Shamu went further and made unnecessarily inflammatory remarks about the MDC-T party, describing their criticism as "selfish and narcissistic, and calculated to intimidate and chill editors into doing editorial bidding of the concerned party (MDC-T) or its publicity-craving officials".

It is with concern that we note that the Minister in charge of upholding the freedom of expression principles agreed to within the GPA, appears to be unable to uphold them himself in his personal rhetoric. We have to ask: if Shamu cannot stop himself from "using abusive language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred or that unfairly undermines political parties and other organisations (Article XIX, Clause e)", how likely is it that he will do all he can to ensure that the public media refrains from these sorts of tactics?

Is he sincerely committed to reforms?

A media conference held in Kariba earlier this month suggests that Minister Shamu is a reluctant participant in a reform. Organised by the government, the conference was widely criticised because major stakeholders were ignored, exiled media organisations were not invited, and because some of those responsible for crafting and using oppressive legislation were selected as keynote speakers.[fn]Media ‘talibans’ set to dominate Kariba conference (http://www.swradioafrica.com/news040509/media.htm), ,i>SW Radio Africa, 4 May, 2009[/fn] Media stakeholders, seeing the list of speakers and topics, were suspicious that the conference was a superficial gesture ultimately designed to sustain the status quo:

The first presentation will be by Patrick Chinamasa (if he comes) on the "Global Political Agreement and the Freedom of Expression" followed by Tsholotsho MP, Jonathan Moyo, who will speak on "Media Policy-making in Zimbabwe - a historical perspective" and then Attorney-General Johannes Tomana who will speak on "Freedom of Expression and the Rights of the State".[fn]Media Conference: Flawed but a golden opportunity (http://www.fingaz.co.zw/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=831...), Financial Gazette, 30 April, 2009 [/fn]

Despite the fact the conference agenda was revised after strong objections, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) boycotted the conference following the re-arrest and detention of journalist Shadreck Manyere, along with Chris Dhlamini and Gandhi Mudzingwa. According to MAZ, government should walk the talk when it comes to media reform as the continued arrest and harassment of journalists "speaks volumes about the absence of press freedom in Zimbabwe."[fn]Journalists Spurn Govt Summit on Press Freedom (http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46779), IPS, 8 May, 2009[/fn]

A glimmer of hope or a false dawn?

Deputy Minister Jameson Timba, in an interview with Lance Guma of SW Radio Africa, spoke positively about the Kariba conference after it had closed:

I believe that there is so much commitment within the inclusive government for repealing and or amending any legislation that has affected peoples' basic freedoms. With respect to AIPPA there was a specific unanimous recommendation at Kariba that AIPPA be repealed and be replaced by Freedom of Information Act and the Media Practitioners Act.[fn]Interview: ‘Unity Govt has brought hope back’ (http://www.zimonline.co.za/Article.aspx?ArticleId=4602), ZimOnline, 18 May, 2009[/fn]

The Media Institute of Southern Africa was less positive saying:

The conference completely missed the point by attempting to be a public bus open to all views, including the absurd, to be discussed, except genuine reform [...] Media reforms cannot start on or be built on lies that we have regulatory bodies when in fact we have bodies that play a secretarial role to the decisions of politicians.[fn]Media Reform Conference Missed the Point (http://www.swradioafrica.com/Documents/misa180509.pdf), MISA-Zimbabwe[/fn]

Timba acknowledges that there are problems, referring to individuals who had "their own agendas" with regards the process, who were creating "teething problems" in the formative stages of the coalition government. However, what Timba lightly refers to as 'teething problems' are in fact extremely serious miscarriages of justice that violate human rights across the board including, for example, the continuing arrest of journalists.

Shortly before the Kariba conference began the editor of The Chronicle, Brezhnev Malaba and a reporter, Nduduzo Tshuma, were arrested in connection with a story about a grain scam.[fn]Promises but little action on Media Reform (http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/nota.asp?idnews=46876), IPS News, 16 May, 2009[/fn] Shortly after the conference, the Zimbabwe Independent news editor Vincent Kahiya and news editor Constantine Chimakure were both arrested in connection with a story that identified CIO agents and police who were allegedly involved in abducting activists - information already in the public domain.[fn]Journalists’ arrest ‘Affront to Freedom of expression’(http://www.thezimbabweindependent.com/index.php/local/22616-journalists-...), Zimbabwe Independent, 14 May, 2009[/fn] Alec Muchadehama, the human rights lawyer representing detained journalist Anderson Shadreck Manyere was also very recently arrested.[fn]Zimbabwe media defense lawyer arrested
(http://cpj.org/2009/05/zimbabwe-media-defense-lawyer-arrested.php), Committee to Protect Journalists, 14 May, 2009
[/fn]

The public media's own coverage of the Kariba conference raises serious questions about whether expression is truly heading towards freedom, or whether political agendas are being cranked out via the printing presses and airwaves. The State controlled broadcasting service, ZBC, claimed that media analysts had "hailed" the Kariba recommendations, and then proceeded to extensively cite comment from Ceaser Zvayi who argued that it was sanctions crippling the media and not repressive legislation.[fn]Media analysts hail Kariba Indaba media recommendations (http://www.newsnet.co.zw/index.php?nID=15727), ZBC, 15 May, 2009[/fn] Zvayi is thoroughly discredited as a proponent of free expression. He was recently forced to leave a lecturing post in Botswana after students campaigned to have his contract terminated when they learned of his close ties to the Zanu PF regime; he is known for calling for the alienation of opposition parties and for celebrating violent crackdowns against the opposition.)[fn]Batswana want Ceaser Zvayi deported(http://www.zimbabwemetro.com/news/batswana-want-ceaser-zvayi-deported/), ZimbabweMetro, 8 August, 2008[/fn] The State controlled Herald newspaper consolidated the sanctions view - a position touted by Zanu PF party - by also choosing to focus on sanctions as the main problem confronting the industry when discussing the conference.[fn]Media Reform Conference Missed the Point (http://www.thezimbabweindependent.com/index.php/opinion/22598-media-refo...), Zimbabwe Independent, 14 May, 2009[/fn]

It's hardly surprising, with journalists still being arrested, statements issued by the Minister in charge that deny the reality on the ground, overtly partisan reporting from the State controlled media, that many media stakeholders, Zimbabweans and the International community are so skeptical about the government's commitment to media reform in accordance with the Global Political Agreement. We need substantive measurable evidence of this before we can believe it is true. In the meanwhile, Sokwanele continues to log breaches of the agreement including ongoing breaches of the commitment to Freedom of Expression in Zimbabwe.