Cablegate: "New" Media Amendment Tops Parliament Agenda

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




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Parliament resumes on June 10, after a two-week
adjournment, to allow legislators to review the new text of
the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment
Bill introduced by Minister Patrick Chinamasa on May 13. The
new text is by-and-large the old amendments with only one
substantive change pertaining to the composition of the
regulatory authority. Parliament will most likely debate the
fate of and dismiss Tafadzwa Musekiwa, MDC MP for Zengeza,
who has missed 21 consecutive days of Parliament. END


2. On June 10, Parliament will resume debate on the Access to
Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) Bill, after
a two-week adjournment during which legislators reviewed the
new text Minister of Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary
Affairs Patrick Chinamasa introduced on May 13, 2003.
Chinamasa introduced and got passed a motion that the text of
the AIPPA Bill be treated as having already been introduced,
which means the new version of the Bill will not be
re-gazetted nor will it go through the Parliamentary Legal
Committee (PLC). It is unclear whether the passage of this
motion means the Bill will be fast-tracked, preventing debate
on the portfolio committee,s report.

3. The government will meet with the PLC on June 5 and 6 to
try to avert an adverse report. If the government is
successful in forestalling such a report, the Bill could
proceed to the Second Reading and the House could suspend the
necessary Standing Orders to circumvent the portfolio
committee and get this legislation passed into law before
this year,s Parliamentary Session adjourns. (NOTE:
Typically, at the second reading stage, the minister explains
the bill, the portfolio committee presents its report, and
debate on the bill follows. After the second reading, the
House goes through the bill line by line and adopts any
changes to it before it proceeds to the third reading when
Parliament passes the bill and it goes to the Head of State
for assent into law. END NOTE.)

4. AIPPA became law in March 2002 and restricts the operation
of Zimbabwe,s independent and foreign journalists and media
companies. (See Reftel). Critics of AIPPA contend that it
contravenes the constitutional right of freedom of expression
and is meant to gag the independent media. The Independent
Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) is challenging the
constitutionality of AIPPA and the hearing was scheduled to
begin June 3 but has been postponed indefinitely after
Supreme Court Chief Justice Chidyausiku, whose allegiance to
President Robert Mugabe is without question, said the court
needed time to consider the Minister of Information Jonathan
Moyo,s request to not hear the case.

5. The new set of amendments carry some changes that the
Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications suggested
but most of the controversial elements of the Bill remain.
Changes to the Bill include:

--The deletion of the clause allowing the Minister of
Information and Publicity the authority to hand pick all the
members of the Media and Information Commission (MIC), the
body charged with registering, accrediting, and monitoring
mass media and journalists.

--The deletion of a clause prohibiting owners of mass media
services that publish newspapers for sale for mass
circulation from continuing to own local mass media services.

--The augmentation of the penalty for intentionally or
recklessly falsifying information, maliciously or
fraudulently fabricating information, or publishing any
knowingly false or reckless statement from a fine not
exceeding level seven or imprisonment not to exceed two years
to a fine not exceeding level 14 (maximum level is 15) or
imprisonment not to exceed three years. (NOTE: On May 7, the
Supreme Court ruled that this section, section 80, was
unconstitutional, violating Article 20 of the Zimbabwe
Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. END

--The addition of a clause that would allow a foreign
journalist to stay in the country beyond the 30-day maximum
proposed before if the MIC feels that the accredited
journalist needs additional days to cover an event.

The remaining amendments, which would expand the list of mass
media products under government control and the restriction
of foreign journalists and media operators, remain unchanged.

6. Parliament is likely to debate the fate of Zengeza (a
high-density Harare suburb) MDC MP Tafadzwa Musekiwa,
who--having secured asylum in the UK--has missed more than
the constitutional limit of 21 consecutive days of
Parliament. Prior to the adjournment, Chinamasa gave notice
to move a motion that Parliament declare the seat vacant.
Gibson Sibanda, MDC Vice-President, delayed debate by
promising to persuade Musekiwa to resign by the June 10
resumption of Parliament. When the seat becomes vacant,
there would be three parliamentary by-elections (one ZANU-PF
seat, two MDC seats) due, although the government seems in no
hurry to set dates for them (The three seats would appear
safe for the previous incumbents' parties, i.e. two MDC and
one ZANU-PF). To unseat Musekiwa, more than one-half of the
membership (76 people) would have to vote for his dismissal.
ZANU-PF currently has enough support between the elected MPs,
non-constituency MPs and provincial governors to exceed the
one-half mandate.

7. The other bill that Parliament may work on before
concluding the Third Session is the Citizenship of Zimbabwe
Amendment Bill. The Citizenship Bill, which exempts persons
of Southern African Development Community parentage, who may
be citizens of these countries by descent, from compliance
with the dual citizenship prohibition and the requirement to
renounce the foreign citizenship in order to keep Zimbabwean
citizenship, has not had its first reading and still needs to
be considered by the parliamentary Legal Committee. One of
USAID,s contractors who is working on Zimbabwean
parliamentary reforms surmised that the government would try
to convince the PLC not to issue an adverse report on the
Citizenship Act amendments in their June 5 and 6 meetings.
If this happens, the House may be able to fast-track this
bill too.

8. The GOZ has been trying to push through the AIPPA Bill
since November 2002, when the PLC began deliberating on the
constitutionality of the Bill. The &new8 Bill that
legislators have been reviewing keeps the most controversial
elements of the Bill and makes a few cosmetic changes. In
particular, it will be interesting how the architects of
AIPPA will try to reconcile (or not) the Supreme Court,s
ruling that Section 80 is unconstitutional and the more
stringent punishment advocated in the new text. The big
question of the week will be how the executive and
legislative branches of government play the last week of the
Third Session of Parliament and whether the Executive will
ram the Bill through Parliament regardless of an adverse PLC
report or portfolio committee report. It will be a test of
the commitment of legislators to parliamentary reform. END


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