Media Law in Zimbabwe and Australia

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MEDIA LAW IN ZIMBABWE AND AUSTRALIA;
A COMPARATIVE STUDY

BY LUKE WILLIAMS
MEDIA LAW IN AUSTRALIA AND ZIMBABWE; A COMPARATIVE STUDY

‘Not to clip the wings of our writers so closely, nor to turn into barn-door fowls those who, allowed a start, might become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the mind to soar -slavery makes it creep’ Voltaire, 1793 (Fritz, 2002)

INTRODUCTION

Zimbabwe and Australia’s geographical difference is insubstantial when comparing the cultural, political and legal disparities between the two commonwealth nations. Whilst Australia is concerned with a perceived threat and danger from outside forces, Zimbabwe is rife with large-scale internal problems of security and power distribution. These distinct problems have important implications for the relationship between media and legislation in the respective countries. The media in Zimbabwe have endured a massive setback in free speech and freedom to information rights as a result of legislation many see as intending to curb anti-establishment discourse. One of the major differences in media law between the two countries is most of Australia’s cases involving media law are civil; whereas the majority of Zimbabwe’s media law cases are criminal and are charged by police acting on government orders (unknown2, 2002). This points to the underlying argument of this thesis; Australia’s media laws act to protect the individual and Zimbabwe’s media laws are in place to reinforce the power of an already tyrannical government. I will further argue that despite the differences between the two countries, the same basic dynamic remains. Namely, that media laws in both countries are created for and used by the more powerful to ensure their domination over the less powerful remains intact.

CULTURE, POLITICS AND THE LEGAL SYSTEM IN ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwe is a second world, republican and neo-Marxist sovereign unit. Since its gained independence from Britain in 1980, it has become the locus of political instability in Southern Africa. Robert Mugabe has been the nations leader since its inaugural year and despite replacing a white supremacist government led by Ian Smith, many argue that Mugabe is repressive, draconian, self-serving and totalitarian (Fritz, 2002).

Among Zimbabwe’s most contentious issues are rising inflation and unemployment, poverty and the management of HIV/AIDS. However, the phenomenon that has caught the gaze of the international eye is the redistribution of farmland from white-skinned owners to black-skinned owners. As a result, political tensions in Zimbabwe have risen to violent actions, most of which has been attributed to the Mugabe regime by political commentators.

The right-wing leader has compromised individual freedoms in favour of tighter governmental control (unknown 1, 2002). Mugabe has achieved this with a strong reduction in the powers of the media and freedom of expression of political ideas. Street violence, bombings and widespread imprisonment have been the means to a very oppressive end for the ruling ZANU-PF party. Independent journalists in Zimbabwe must conduct their profession divided between the journalistic agenda for truth and the possibility of violence and imprisonment. Independent journalists work in Zimbabwe's hostile and extremely polarized society, were the media are constantly subjected to bizarre legislative changes that are clearly designed to intimidate (Mudiwa, 2002), but also to ensure that already cash-strapped publishing houses spend time and money defending themselves against lawsuits’ (Mungai, 2002)

THE MEDIA IN ZIMBABWE

The state has a monopoly over media in Zimbabwe. The majority of its media institutions are run by the government’s Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). The ZBC runs both of the nation’s television stations and five out of its six radio stations.

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has been attacked internationally for its biased reports in...
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