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Cablegate: Government Seeks to Tighten Control of Media

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001948

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/PD, AF/S AF/RA
NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER
LONDON FOR GURNEY
PARIS FOR NEARY
NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM KPAO ZI
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO TIGHTEN CONTROL OF MEDIA


1. The government-owned weekly "Sunday Mail"
reported on August 25 that the government has
introduced amendments to the controversial Access to
Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) that
will further tighten government control of the media.
According to the news article, the Cabinet Committee
on Legislation has already approved amendments to
AIPPA. The parliament will have to approve the
amendments, but ruling party control of parliament
makes that approval a formality.

2. Salient points of the amendments include:

- Restricts public access to information by
allowing the ".head of a public body to refuse to
disclose to an applicant information, including
personal information about the applicant, if the
disclosure will result in a threat to another person's
safety or mental or physical health."
- Exempts the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and
ZIANA (the government-owned wire service) from the
AIPPA-mandated media registration process.
- Limits the accreditation of foreign journalists
in Zimbabwe to 30 days, rather than 12 months as
permitted under the original law.
- Defines and expands the crime of "publishing
falsehoods," giving courts clearer benchmarks for
convictions or dismissals.

3. Excerpts of the article follow:

". . .In his submissions to the committee,
Chinamasa said the purpose of the Bill was to
amend the AIPPA with a view to improving it and
correcting certain anomalies and errors that have
come to the attention of the ministry since the
Act was promulgated. The Bill seeks to repeal
Section 22 of the Act and substitutes it with a
new section that says: The head of a public body
may refuse to disclose to an applicant
information, including personal information about
the applicant, if the disclosure will result in a
threat to another person's safety or mental or
physical health. Section 35 of the Bill that
deals with the penalty for deliberately
falsifying personal information reads: `Any
person who, when required under any enactment to
supply to a public body any personal information
verbally or in writing about himself or herself
or a third party, supplies any information which
he or she knows to be false or does not have
reasonable grounds for believing to be true,
shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a
fine not exceeding level five or imprisonment for
a period not exceeding six months or to both such
fine and such imprisonment.'

". . .The Bill seeks to exempt from registration
`mass medium founded under an Act of Parliament,
a mass media service consisting of the
activities of a person holding a license issued
in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act to the
extent that such activities are permitted by
such license or a representative office of a
foreign mass media service permitted to operate
in Zimbabwe in terms of Section 90.' Section 80
of the Bill reads: `A journalist who abuses his
journalistic privilege by; (a) falsifying or
maliciously or fraudulently fabricating
information or; (b) publishing or reproducing
any statement (i) knowing it to be false or
without having reasonable grounds for believing
it to be true; and (ii) recklessly, or with
malicious or fraudulent intent, representing it
as a true statement or; (c) committing or
facilitating the commission of a criminal
offense; `Shall be guilty of an offense and
liable to a fine not exceeding level seven or to
imprisonment for a period not exceeding two
years.'

"In its considerations, the committee said it
felt that 12 months was `too long a period for
the accreditation of a foreign journalists and
advised that the period be reduced to 30 days."

4. Comment: The original AIPPA was enacted early
this year after significant parliamentary debate. The
Act established a Statutory Media Commission, which
requires that all journalists apply for a one-year
renewable license. Media organizations (now excepting
some state-owned media) must pay substantial
registration fees and meet a stringent set of
requirements before issuance of a license. However,
the license can be revoked at any time if for those
who breach a planned code of conduct. Since its
enactment, more than a dozen local journalists,
including an American citizen, have been arrested and
tried for violating AIPPA. Two separate legal
challenges to AIPPA have been filed by journalists and
will be heard later this year. End comment.
SULLIVAN

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