afrol News, 16 January - While the approval of the controversial 'Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill' by the Zimbabwean Parliament still is adjourned, leading national media organisations presented a petition to drop the law altogether.
The draconian media bill originally was scheduled to be pushed through the Zimbabwean parliament yesterday, but was adjourned, without a new date set for its possible approval. The bill was designed to silence the independent media and to ban foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe. Further, local journalists would have to register with the government or face two years imprisonment.
The reason given for adjourning the vote on the media bill was the long debate on a new labour bill, discussed the same day. However, the media bill was opposed to by the entire opposition and even criticised from the government party's own benches.
Further, President Mugabe one day earlier had assured his fellow Southern African presidents of his "commitment to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of Zimbabwe," and reaffimed the "practice of allowing national and international journalists to cover important national events, including elections." Approving the disputed media bill the following day would have been seen as an outright provocation.
Today, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) published a petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe, "completely rejecting" the bill. The petition was signed by the leaders of MISA-Zimbabwe, the Federation of African Media Women of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe, the Foreign correspondents Association of Zimbabwe and the Harare Journalist Press Club.
The media organisations asked Parliament "to defer the passage of this Bill pending consultations with all necessary stakeholders." They claim the bill would make "the profession of journalism virtually impossible to practice." Taking note of "the fact that the Bill contains a number of unconstitutional provisions," the media representatives said they would "be left with no other alternative, but to defy the new law," if passed.
The representatives of the group were however denied access to see the Speaker of Parliament Emerson Mnangagwa and the leader of the House, Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, by the parliament security. The security said that the organisations had not made any appointment to see the Speaker. Attempts to explain that it was not necessary to make an appointment in order to present a petition were however met with deaf ears. They however managed to see and present a petition to an opposition leader.
Journalists intending to stage a night vigil at parliament were on Monday (14 January) chased away from the parliament building by the police on the grounds that the building was a high security and protected area.