Zimbabwe to scrap controversial media law

Zimbabwe has promised to repeal its controversial media law, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which has been criticized for stifling media freedom in the country.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act contains provisions on data protection, regulating the use of personal data by public bodies. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act defines personal information as recorded information about an identifiable person which includes: the person’s name, address or telephone number the person’s race, national or ethnic origin, religious or political beliefs or associations. Age, sex and sexual orientation. Marital or family status are also considered private.

In the previous regime led by former President Robert Mugabe, the act was used to arrest journalists, shut down newspapers and restrict media ownership as well as limit employment of journalists.

In terms of regulation, AIPPA restricts the ownership or shareholding of the mass media to anyone other than a Zimbabwean citizen or a person permanently resident in the country. Even journalists cannot be accredited if they are not citizens.

Prior to now, the government has been criticized for dragging its feet in changing laws like AIPPA and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) which were adopted in 2013.

Zimbabweans have advocated that AIPPA be scrapped and replaced with an information access law that meets regional and international principles as provided in terms of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has continually promised to implement reforms and repealing AIPPA is one of the reforms now being carried out by his government.

Zimbabwe’s parliament is expected to introduce three new laws to replace AIPPA.

Although BSA and AIPPA are the main laws governing the media sector, there are other laws that limit freedom of the media, freedom of expression and citizens’ right to access to information. Such laws include certain sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.  Some of the provisions which restrict media freedom include Section 31 which criminalises publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State and Section 33 which criminalises undermining the authority of the President.