The Zimbabwean Access to Information and Privacy Bill
by ARTICLE 19 Global Campaign for Free Expression London January, 2002
The Access to Information and Privacy Bill, 2001 (Media Bill) is currently being considered by the Zimbabwean Parliament. Passage of this Bill, which is part of a series of restrictive measures proposed by the Government, was recently delayed when the parliamentary legal committee failed to report on it in advance of the second reading, as required by the Constitution of Zimbabwe. This Bill, if passed into law, would severely restrict freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. The timing of the Media Bill, just prior to the presidential elections scheduled for March of this year, makes ARTICLE 19’s concerns about it all the more poignant, given the crucial importance of freedom of expression to free and fair elections. As the name of the Media Bill implies, it does formally establish a right to access information held by public bodies, something ARTICLE 19 welcomes. However, this right is so limited by exclusions and exceptions that its practical impact is likely to be extremely limited. The Media Bill does also impose limits on the collection of personal information by public bodies and the uses to which such bodies may put this information, again something we welcome. However, the bulk of the provisions in the Media Bill have nothing to do with access to information or privacy. Instead, they impose a range of harsh restrictions on media freedom. This gives the impression that the name and information/privacy provisions have been included simply to draw attention away from the real import of the Media Bill. Key problems with the Media Bill are as follows:
the exceptions and exclusions to the right to information are so comprehensive as to effectively negate the right; all media outlets and any business disseminating media products or even video or audio recordings must obtain a registration certificate from a government controlled body; all individual journalists must also obtain accreditation from the same body; all foreign ownership of the media is prohibited and no non-citizen may work as a journalist; and excessive restrictions are imposed on the content of what the media may publish or broadcast. This Memorandum analyses the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, setting out ARTICLE 19’s main concerns, along with recommendations as to how to address them. Our concerns are grouped into five main categories. First, the provisions on freedom of information are seriously undermined by an extensive regime of exclusions and exceptions. Second, the Media Bill allocates broad regulatory powers to an Information and Media Commission but this body is firmly under the control of the Minister responsible for information. Third, all media outlets, as well as those who disseminate information, including through video and audio cassettes, are required obtain a registration certificate from the Commission. Fourth, conditions are placed on who may practise journalism and all journalists are required to obtain accreditation from the Commission. Fifth, the law imposes strict restrictions on media content, including by reintroducing provisions which were recently struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe.
International and Constitutional Standards
International Guarantees of Freedom of Expression
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is generally considered to be the flagship statement of international human rights, binding on all states as a matter of customary international law. Article 19 of the UDHR guarantees the right to freedom of expression and information in the following terms: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
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