25 February 1998


Concerns rise over freedom of expression implications of new telecommunications bill.

Incident details

legal action

(MISA/IFEX) - Media workers and civil society representatives in Zimbabwe
have called on the government to amend Zimbabwe's draft communications bill
in order to allow for an independent telecommunications and broadcasting
regulator that is legally free from state, government or political party
control. They would like to see the creation of a body which puts public
interest first and has the power to regulate and issue licenses for public,
community and private broadcasting services.

**Please note that this action alert provides additional information to IFEX
action alert dated 24 February 1998**

Concluding MISA-Zimbabwe's two-day workshop on the liberalization of the
airwaves, they called for a regulatory body which would be accountable only
to the Zimbabwean people through parliament. According to one resolution
released at the end of the workshop, "the public interest should underlie
all aspects of communication policy, regulation and operations."

Among other issues, the workshop focused on the proposed Communications Bill
1997. The bill specifically excludes the granting of broadcasting licenses
from the powers of the Communications Authority. Clause 33 (2) provides
that only the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) shall operate, or have
in its possession or control, a broadcast station. This clause effectively
retains the ZBC's monopoly over the airwaves.

Media workers are worried that by providing for this monopoly and
establishing an authority appointed by the Minister of Information in
consultation with the President, the bill will undermine attempts to free
the airwaves and create an independent authority appointed to regulate
broadcasting and telecommunications activities in the public interest.
According to them, "in a democratic society... diversity of opinion should
be related to the principle of independence. Recognition of this principle
is implicit in the establishment of a Communications Authority as a body to
regulate broadcasting or telecommunications independently of state or
commercial interests."

The draft Bill also retains monopoly in telecommunications services, with
the exception of cellular phone services, for a successor company of the
existing Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC). All shares in the
successor company will be held by persons nominated by the Minister of
Information on behalf of the state.

Other areas of concern over the draft bill are:

1. It empowers the State President, under the auspices of either public
security or the maintenance of law and order (neither are defined), to order
a postal or telecommunications licensee to:

  • intercept or detain a postal article and deliver it to an employee of the
    state to be disposed of in such a manner as directed by the President; or
  • intercept or monitor any telecommunication service; or
  • the suspension of any telecommunications service or service to a named

    2. It allows a police officer to order that any postal article is detained
    under suspicion that it may contain evidence, without the requirement of a
    court order and;

    3. It provides for a fine of up to 2500 Zimbabwean Dollars and/or
    imprisonment of up to six months for making a phone call with the purposes
    of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety.

    The Zimbabwean Government's timetable is to have the bill enacted as law by
    the end of March 1998. A counter proposal has been drafted with the help of
    Professor Ncube of the University of Zimbabwe Law Faculty. This proposal,
    which underlines the principles of public interest and independence will be
    submitted by MISA-Zimbabwe to the government in the near future.

    Recommended Action

    Send appeals to authorities:

  • calling for the removal of ZBC's monopoly of the airwaves
  • urging them not to introduce legislation which stifles, rather than
    enhances, free speech
  • calling for the creation of a democratic and independent telecommunications
    and broadcasting regulator free from government control
  • appealing for a transparent and independent process in selecting the board
    of the regulator and the PTC's successor telecommunications company

    Appeals To

    Rt. Hon. Chen Chimutengwende
    Ministry of Information, Posts and Telecommunications
    8th Floor
    Linquenda House
    Box CY 1276, Causeway
    Harare, Zimbabwe
    Tel: +263 4 706891/3 or 706891
    Fax: +263 4 720982

    Rt. Hon. Speaker C. Ndebele
    Parliament of Zimbabwe
    Nelson Mandela Avenue
    P.O. Box CY 298
    Harare, Zimbabwe
    Tel: +263 4 708 921 / 729 722
    Fax: +263 4 795 548

    Rt. Hon. Minister Witness Mangwenda
    Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs
    5th Floor
    Corner House
    Samara Machel Avenue
    Harare, Zimbabwe
    Tel: +263 4 774 620 -7
    Fax: +263 4 772 993

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Media Institute of Southern Africa
    21 Johann Albrecht Street
    Private Bag 13386
    misaalerts (@) gmail.com
    Fax:+264 61 248016
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