Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) welcome the cabinet principles obtained in the 30th of April 2024 government advisory as pronounced by Minister Muswere.

The welcome is on the basis that the legislative intent aligns with the two bodies’ position of the need to professionalise the media sector, anchoring co-regulation on a law that provides space for the industry to elect representatives that superintendent over the affairs of media practitioners and the principles provide for the independence of this proposed regulatory mechanism.

Since the joint sitting of delegates to the national executives of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) in Harare on the 19th of January 2023, the two bodies have jointly been leading the mobilisation of journalists and editors around a common position on the co-regulation of the media, as part of the broader media law reform agenda.

The joint national executives meeting had particularly been called to consider the legislative intent by the then Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Monica Mutsvangwa, who in December of 2022 had tabled before cabinet proposals for a Media Practitioners Bill as a way to effect coregulation of the media.

Proposals to have a law that gives effect to the co-regulation of the media are a by-product of a more than a decade long push back by Zimbabwean journalists and media sector opposed to statutory regulation of the media as provided for by the widely condemned Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

Statutory regulation of the media was to be further entrenched by the establishment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) among the independent constitutional bodies in the 2013 Constitution and subsequently the enabling legislation, the ZMC Act enacted in 2022.

Journalists and media organizations on the other hand coordinated in the setting up of a selfregulatory mechanism based on a media code of conduct that espouses principles of a professional and accountable media.

ZUJ and ZINEF to this day subscribe to the principle of self-regulation as the ideal and democratic form of regulating the media.

Co-regulation was therefore a compromise position that the state actors and the industry arrived at on the basis of the constitutional reality of the powers vested within the ZMC and the media industry’s aspiration to sustain self-regulation.

In this framework, statutory and self-regulation co-exist with the industry being given the first opportunity to implement professional standards and accountability measures while the statutory body becomes an appellant.

The compromise position of co-regulation is supported across the board.

Areas of divergence have been on the mechanics of implementing co-regulation. The joint sitting of ZUJ and ZINEF rejected the Cabinet principles of December 2022 on the basis that the framework did not clearly provide for the professionalisation of the sector and the delegation of powers of the ZMC.

ZUJ and ZINEF are of the view that journalists standards and ethics are universal and definitive.

The Cabinet principles then were open ended and intended to fragment the sector and further entrench the supremacy of statutory regulation by way of having non defined bodies depositing constitutions and codes of conduct with the ZMC.

On the basis of this position, in 2023 ZUJ and ZINEF mobilised journalists and editors across the country’s ten provinces, starting in February with Bulawayo on the 8th, Gwanda on the 9th, Hwange on the 10th, Gweru on the 13th, Kwekwe on the 14th, Chinhoyi on the 15th, Masvingo on the 16th, Mutare on the 23rd, Bindura on the 27th with Marondera and Harare concluding these mobilisation meetings in March on the 8th and 13th respectively.

Journalists and editors would append their signatures in support of the ZUJ and ZINEF position. Other advocacy engagements and meetings with policy makers were held in urging the review of these principles.

There were to be changes in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services post the 2023 general elections, ushering in Dr Jenfan Muswere as Minister.

In interactions and engagements with ZUJ, including but not limited to the occasion of the National Journalism and Media Awards (NJAMA) and subsequent engagement meetings, the position on co-regulation was re-articulated to the Minister on the basis that the sector is in favour of a framework in which an industry led mechanism is given the first instance to regulate over the affairs of the media using delegated powers of the Commission, with them being an appellant body.

The emphasis is on ensuring media professionalism, having the industry self-regulate independently and to ensure journalism is protected.

ZUJ and ZNEF remain committed to the principle of self-regulation and will be closely following the law development process to ensure that the industry has significant stake in journalistic regulatory affairs.

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