Justice Minister Mnangagwa is still pursuing criminal defamation damages against Alpha Media Holdings contrary to the promise by Information minister Moyo. Is this ZanuPF factionalism or Moyo did not have authority to make such announcements?
#Freedom of the Press
By The Editor
In an interview with state owned The Sunday Mail in Harare recently, the newly appointed Minister for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Professor Jonathan Moyo promised to quash Criminal Defamation laws. This was an announcement which caught the media by surprise. The minister argued that the move was to align the law with provisions of the new Constitution that guaranteed freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
It was Prof Moyo’s admission that the existence of criminal defamation in the legal statutes has caused the country “more harm than good”. He added that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] (the Criminal Law Code) will be repealed following extensive consultations with stakeholders in the media industry.
The minister in a previous government headed by Zanu PF crafted notorious bills which literally stifled freedom of expression in Zimbabwe . During his 2000 to 2008 tenure, he crafted and defended the following acts which directly affected the way journalists work in Zimbabwe :
- The Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) (2001)
- The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Commercialisation) Act (2003)
- The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) (2002)
- The Public Order and Security Act (2002)
- The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Commercialisation) Act (2003).
One of his famous achievements was the closure of the privately owned The Daily News following their failure to get a publishing licence on time.
The former chairman of the Parliamentary Legal Committee and late Dr Eddison Zvobgo, described Jonathan Moyo’s move to bring AIPPA to parliament saying , “I can say without equivocation that this Bill, in its original form, was the most calculated and determined assault on our liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, in the 20 years I served as Cabinet minister.”
Information minister who is famous for his catchphrases was quoted celebrating his announcement to quash criminal defamation laws saying, “Even so, I am happy to say without any equivocation and without any fear of being contradicted that based on the views we have heard from our engagement with the media industry, given the progressive nature of the new Bill of Rights in our new Constitution and particularly based on the values and ideals of our heroic liberation struggle whose recognition is now enshrined in our new Constitution, I honestly believe that the time has come to remove criminal defamation from our system of justice in the national interest.”
“As a ministry that oversees the media industry which is the most affected by criminal defamation, we are persuaded and therefore convinced that the days of having criminal defamation in our statutes now lie in the past.
In a move which will also shock journalists and in direct contrast to Moyo’s declaration, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa is claiming defamation damages of US$1 million from Alpha Media Holdings owned by renowned publisher and entrepreneur Trevor Ncube. He this week won the first round of suit after the High Court threw out the publishing company’s application for exception to the claim. This is a contrast to the claims and promises by Professor Moyo.
The state owned daily , The Herald reported that Minister Mnangagwa last year filed a US$1 million lawsuit against Alpha Media Holdings over claims that he was leading a faction fighting to succeed President Mugabe. Minister Mnangagwa says in the court papers that an article published in the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper on May 11, 2012 was false and highly defamatory of him.
The article entitled “Mnangagwa ready to rule” appeared on the front page of the newspaper edition.Independent editor Dumisani Muleya is cited second defendant in the lawsuit.
Part of the article read: “Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has for the first time openly declared his interest in taking over from Robert Mugabe as the leader of Zanu-PF and the country, in remarks showing the succession battle in the party is intensifying.
“Mnangagwa told the Zimbabwe Independent last Friday at Heroes Acre during the burial of Zanu-PF Politburo member Edison Ncube he was ready to govern if given an opportunity. This virtually confirmed that he is positioning himself to succeed Mugabe, remarks which could anger senior Zanu-PF officials and fuel factionalism and internal power struggles ahead of the next elections. I am ready to rule if selected to do so, Mnangagwa said.”
Journalist unions around the world have been campaigning for a global ban for Criminal Defamation laws. In a white paper on Criminal Defamation, one of the defenders of Press Freedom , International Press Institute (IPI) attacked criminal defamation for being developed as a measure for protecting a society’s “best men” (i.e. citizens in positions of power like Minister Mnangagwa) and maintaining civil order. Since its origin in England’s notorious Star Chamber in the 1500s as a method for punishing the disrespect of authority, Criminal Defamation is being used globally to stop staunching dissent , criticism and free exercise of journalism.
The law’s evil nature was criticised in a 2010 joint declaration that identified criminal defamation as one of the 10 key challenges to freedom of expression in the following decade. The following organisations cited -plaintiff-friendly constructions, the protection of privileged ideologies, and unduly harsh punishments that include prison time and loss of civil rights for alleged offenders as particularly troubling attributes of criminal libel laws.
- Special rapporteurs or representatives for freedom of expression of the United Nations (UN),
- Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE),
- Organisation of American States (OAS)
- African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
The criminal punishments associated with the various offences that fall under the umbrella of defamation—including libel, slander, insult lead to self-censorship among the media and investigative reporters in particular.
Zimbabwean journalists have been accused of exercising strict self censorship because citizens are being denied the right to be informed about the actions of those in positions of power or influence. Investigative journalism has all but died as journalists toe the line.
Had Professor Moyo’s courageous plans materialised, Zimbabwe would climb higher up the ladder in terms of defending freedom of information. Reporters Without Borders currently ranks Zimbabwe as No. 133 in the world because of the harsh media laws crafted by Professor Moyo-http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html.
It remains to be seen if it was just a publicity stance or his wings have been clipped again. In the meantime journalists have to avoid upsetting those in power to avoid incineration in Zimbabwe.
- ‘Focus on Govt programmes, not succession issue’ (herald.co.zw)
- Mnangagwa wins first round against Alpha Media (herald.co.zw)
- Analysts blame Mugabe for Zanu PF infighting (newsday.co.zw)
- Journalists welcome stance on defamation (herald.co.zw)
- Moyo charms journalists (zimbabweelection.com)
- MMPZ welcomes scrapping of sections of defamation law (mediamonitoringzim.wordpress.com)
- Succession tears Zanu PF apart (zimbabweelection.com)
- Party infighting to affect national economy (thestandard.co.zw)
- George Charamba jumped the gun: Didymus Mutasa (newsday.co.zw)
- Media reform still necessary – MISA Zimbabwe (thezimbabwean.co)