Thoughts on changes to media laws after the 2018 elections

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TOWARD the 2018 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe, most public organisations interested in free and fair elections appealed to media houses and journalists to consider the following values during their coverage of the elections.
First, in any election year, the press is encouraged to shift emphasis from Article 19 to Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter article provides that:
1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone free and full development of his personality is possible.
2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
In proposing the shifting of emphasis during elections from Article 19 to Article 29, the Zimbabweans noted that when the liberation struggle resulted in African independence as well as one-person-one-vote and majority enfranchisement in Zimbabwe at the end of 1979, the UN and other global institutions got the opportunity, for the first time, to invest in national elections based on universal suffrage in Zimbabwe.
Therefore the emphasis provided by Article 29 was appropriate for 2018 since the UN was still pretty much heavily invested in the process.
In contrast, Article 19, which is often abused by the press allied to opposition parties provides as follows: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”
Second, the Zimbabweans pointed out that the three parties which signed a memorandum of understanding in 2008 and later formed an Inclusive Government in 2009, included in their agreement a media provision also called Article 19 based on the mutual understanding and agreement that Zimbabwe was in a state of media war, internally and externally; that ending that media war would depend mostly on the people of Zimbabwe and the political parties to which they belonged and; that the proposed inclusive Government would provide a framework for ending media polarisation by first ending social and political polarisations along partisan lines.
Then a return to the ‘Preamble’ to the whole interparty agreement provided the third contextual fact that the media should serve to recognise, respect, promote and strengthen the popular interests and aspirations of the people which included, among many others:
l To uphold, defend and sustain Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.
l To uphold, defend and sustain Zimbabwe’s independence.
l To uphold, defend and sustain Zimbabwe’s territorial integrity and national unity.
l To recognise, accept, and cherish the achievements and legacy of the African national liberation struggle as the foundation of Zimbabwe’s independence, freedom and human rights.
l To put our people and our country first and always in all our dealings with one another and with outsiders.
l To accept and celebrate the fact that the demand by the African majority to reclaim its stolen land and resources has been at the core of contestation in Zimbabwe and that this land question has now been resolved in a way that is worth defending and irreversible.
l To demonstrate loyalty to Zimbabwe, patriotism and commitment to Zimbabwe’s national purpose, core values, interests and aspirations.
Within this overall context, it was made clear that the interparty agreement recognised that there were national laws, national values and national institutions which some had abandoned and even condemned but which, in 2009, we had all agreed to come back to for the sake of our children and children’s children.
In the third place, it was pointed out that the same three parties that formed the Inclusive Government in 2009 proceeded also to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (COPAC) which went ward-to-ward across the entire country to gather people’s views and ideas for a new Constitution.
That Constitution was adopted as Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment 20 of 2013 after a national referendum and it included a whole Chapter Two called ‘National Objectives’ which include, among
l To Page 6
other things:
l National unity, peace and stability
l Balanced development
l Gender balance
l Respect, honour and support for veterans of the liberation struggle
On the whole, the press did not heed appeals made by the public and by public organisations interested in peace as well as free and fair elections.
It was observed that, in amending media laws between 2007 and 2008, Parliament did not provide penalties for violations of election reporting regulations or for violations of any other media laws and regulations.
This is the main concern as the nation now reviews the behaviour of the press during the 2018 elections.
In doing so, the nation needs to place its debate within a historical perspective.
On March 27 2002, Baffour Ankomah, the editor of the pan-African magazine New African, told a colloquium in Harare that the UK had more than 50 laws which restricted the media and were far harsher than Zimbabwe’s laws.
However, British media laws, though truly ‘draconian’, were not controversial; while British-supported media in Zimbabwe had succeeded in making Zimbabwe’s media laws ‘controversial’.
Asked to explain why Britain’s harsh media laws were not controversial, Ankomah explained that this was the case “…precisely because the laws are there and the media obey them, religiously. Those who, on rare occasions, disobey the laws are duly arrested, harassed, intimidated and at times prosecuted.”
To make his unbelieving Zimbabwean audience understand what he meant, Ankomah gave details of at least four British journalists who had been arrested in previous years:
Ben Edwards was arrested on August 3 1998 and locked up for 24 hours. His video camera and tapes were confiscated and his house raided by police who also took his home computer and a number of tapes and records. His crime was filming protestors against genetically modified crops.
Campbell Thomas, who worked for The Daily Mail, was arrested in Scotland in 1998 for ‘knocking on the wrong door’ while inquiring about the secret meeting of the Bilderberg Group. He was locked up for five hours and later released without charge.
Roddy Mansfield was arrested in 1997 for filming a protest. When he subsequently complained against London police, he was arrested six more times and had his tapes erased while he watched.
Tony Geraghty was charged under the Official Secrets Act in 1989 for writing a book revealing MI5’s dirty tricks in Northern Ireland.
His military source also faced criminal charges. The Official Secrets Acts of Britain date back to 1889 and there were five of them in use in 2002: that of 1889, that of 1911, and those of 1920, 1939 and 1989.
Ankomah made these references to stress his point that, if any four journalists had been arrested in Zimbabwe under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act or any other act, the Western and Western-sponsored press would have presumed their innocence and agitated around the world for their immediate release and for funds to defend and honour them.
But because the four journalists were arrested in Britain under British laws, there was no controversy and most Zimbabweans were not even aware of the names of the journalists, the laws under which they were arrested or whether or not they were ever tried.
The arrests were treated as routine and uncontroversial because British laws, whether considered harsh or not, were there to be obeyed on the basis of a value system which Ankomah said revolved around “…a nine-point unwritten code…” including: “national interest; national security; government lead; ideological leaning; advertisers’ and readers’ power; fourth estate role of the national press; following the national flag; reporting into a pre-established box and; patriotism,” in that order.
Given the direct link between media, communications and security, Ankomah could have also referred to the fact that there were no international controversies and no global campaigns against the US Patriotic Act, the British Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 and the British Terrorism Act of 2000, all of which went far beyond previous media regulation to register, keep under executive surveillance and to track the manufacture, wholesaling, retailing and exchange of information communication technologies in the interest of security.
During the same 2002 lecture, Ankomah also cited Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express newspaper, as saying:
“Many newspapers are harmless (only) because they do not know how to strike or when to strike… But teach the man behind them how to load and what to shoot at, and they become deadly… When (a media outlet is) skilfully employed, no politician of any party can resist it. It is a flaming sword that will cut through any political armour.”
We have, in previous instalments, referred to post-modernism as a theory of media and a technique of media deception.
What Lord Beaverbrook’s remark means is that the corporate elites and imperialist elites, who direct the operations of global mass media, never bother with the so-called universal principles of press freedom and the free-flow of information.
Rather they: “…teach the man behind (their chosen medium) how to load and what to shoot at.”
MaDzimbahwe would do well to read Lord Justice Leveson’s report presented to the British Parliament and printed November 29 2012. It is called ‘An Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press’ and it records more recent cases of British journalists arrested for criminal offences committed in the course of their work.
Hugh Grant, one of the prominent victims of the conspiracy to obtain information through phone hacking, accused journalists and editors of under-stating the number of convicted journalists in the 2013-2014 phone hacking trials. On June 25 2014, Hugh Grant wrote:
“Of eight journalists charged with hacking, six have now been found, or have pleaded guilty; one editor, three news editors and two hackers. Twelve more trials of News International (now rebranded News UK) journalists are currently scheduled.”
Note: Dr Tafataona Mahoso writes in his personal capacityl From Page 5
other things:
National unity, peace and stability
l Balanced development
l Gender balance
l Respect, honour and support for veterans of the liberation struggle
On the whole, the press did not heed appeals made by the public and by public organisations interested in peace as well as free and fair elections.
It was observed that, in amending media laws between 2007 and 2008, Parliament did not provide penalties for violations of election reporting regulations or for violations of any other media laws and regulations.
This is the main concern as the nation now reviews the behaviour of the press during the 2018 elections.
In doing so, the nation needs to place its debate within a historical perspective.
On March 27 2002, Baffour Ankomah, the editor of the pan-African magazine New African, told a colloquium in Harare that the UK had more than 50 laws which restricted the media and were far harsher than Zimbabwe’s laws.
However, British media laws, though truly ‘draconian’, were not controversial; while British-supported media in Zimbabwe had succeeded in making Zimbabwe’s media laws ‘controversial’.
Asked to explain why Britain’s harsh media laws were not controversial, Ankomah explained that this was the case “…precisely because the laws are there and the media obey them, religiously. Those who, on rare occasions, disobey the laws are duly arrested, harassed, intimidated and at times prosecuted.”
To make his unbelieving Zimbabwean audience understand what he meant, Ankomah gave details of at least four British journalists who had been arrested in previous years:
l Ben Edwards was arrested on August 3 1998 and locked up for 24 hours. His video camera and tapes were confiscated and his house raided by police who also took his home computer and a number of tapes and records. His crime was filming protestors against genetically modified crops.
l Campbell Thomas, who worked for The Daily Mail, was arrested in Scotland in 1998 for ‘knocking on the wrong door’ while inquiring about the secret meeting of the Bilderberg Group. He was locked up for five hours and later released without charge.
l Roddy Mansfield was arrested in 1997 for filming a protest. When he subsequently complained against London police, he was arrested six more times and had his tapes erased while he watched.
l Tony Geraghty was charged under the Official Secrets Act in 1989 for writing a book revealing MI5’s dirty tricks in Northern Ireland.
His military source also faced criminal charges. The Official Secrets Acts of Britain date back to 1889 and there were five of them in use in 2002: that of 1889, that of 1911, and those of 1920, 1939 and 1989.
Ankomah made these references to stress his point that, if any four journalists had been arrested in Zimbabwe under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act or any other act, the Western and Western-sponsored press would have presumed their innocence and agitated around the world for their immediate release and for funds to defend and honour them.
But because the four journalists were arrested in Britain under British laws, there was no controversy and most Zimbabweans were not even aware of the names of the journalists, the laws under which they were arrested or whether or not they were ever tried.
The arrests were treated as routine and uncontroversial because British laws, whether considered harsh or not, were there to be obeyed on the basis of a value system which Ankomah said revolved around “…a nine-point unwritten code…” including: “national interest; national security; government lead; ideological leaning; advertisers’ and readers’ power; fourth estate role of the national press; following the national flag; reporting into a pre-established box and; patriotism,” in that order.
Given the direct link between media, communications and security, Ankomah could have also referred to the fact that there were no international controversies and no global campaigns against the US Patriotic Act, the British Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 and the British Terrorism Act of 2000, all of which went far beyond previous media regulation to register, keep under executive surveillance and to track the manufacture, wholesaling, retailing and exchange of information communication technologies in the interest of security.
During the same 2002 lecture, Ankomah also cited Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express newspaper, as saying:
“Many newspapers are harmless (only) because they do not know how to strike or when to strike… But teach the man behind them how to load and what to shoot at, and they become deadly… When (a media outlet is) skilfully employed, no politician of any party can resist it. It is a flaming sword that will cut through any political armour.”
We have, in previous instalments, referred to post-modernism as a theory of media and a technique of media deception.
What Lord Beaverbrook’s remark means is that the corporate elites and imperialist elites, who direct the operations of global mass media, never bother with the so-called universal principles of press freedom and the free-flow of information.
Rather they: “…teach the man behind (their chosen medium) how to load and what to shoot at.”
MaDzimbahwe would do well to read Lord Justice Leveson’s report presented to the British Parliament and printed November 29 2012. It is called ‘An Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press’ and it records more recent cases of British journalists arrested for criminal offences committed in the course of their work.
Hugh Grant, one of the prominent victims of the conspiracy to obtain information through phone hacking, accused journalists and editors of under-stating the number of convicted journalists in the 2013-2014 phone hacking trials. On June 25 2014, Hugh Grant wrote:
“Of eight journalists charged with hacking, six have now been found, or have pleaded guilty; one editor, three news editors and two hackers. Twelve more trials of News International (now rebranded News UK) journalists are currently scheduled.”
Note: Dr Tafataona Mahoso writes in his personal capacity.

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