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New media law demands sensitive corporate information

New regulations for the registration of media organisations demand detailed and sensitive corporate information which includes market analyses, the organization’s financial backers, business plans, projected three-year earnings or losses, and the professional history of the organisation’s leaders.

A cable dispatched by the United States embassy said this was not information a business would choose to give its competitors.

“Nonetheless, this requirement forces the privately owned media to provide this sensitive proprietary information to the government, which is, in essence, the competition,” the cable says.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 02HARARE1449, NEW MEDIA LICENSING REQUIREMENTS – ANOTHER MEANS

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

02HARARE1449

2002-06-19 05:09

2011-08-30 01:44

UNCLASSIFIED

Embassy Harare

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 001449

 

SIPDIS

 

DEP FOR AF/S, AF/PD, 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: NEW MEDIA LICENSING REQUIREMENTS – ANOTHER MEANS

OF CONTROL

 

 

1. Summary: On June 15 the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ)

published new media registration and licensing regulations.

The new regulations are mandated under the controversial

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act

(AIPPA). AIPPA became law on March 15, 2002 and has since

gained international notoriety for its use exclusively

against journalists working for the privately owned and

international media. The GoZ has used AIPPA’s prohibition

on “publishing falsehoods” to arrest 11 journalists on 21

different charges in the last 6 weeks. In our analysis,

the new media licensing requirements give GoZ policy makers

a new and more powerful weapon in their campaign to control

all media operating in Zimbabwe. This cable offers an

overview of the main features of the new regulations and

how they will increase GoZ ability to control the media.

 

 

————————

Implementation Not Clear

————————

2. When and how the media must comply with the new

licensing and accreditation requirements is unclear and

makes media vulnerable to sudden closure. AIPPA provided

for the establishment of a Media Commission to oversee all

licensing and accreditation issues. Last week Media

Commission Chairman Tafataona Mahoso said that media

organizations and journalists working before June 16 could

continue to work under existing company registration and

accreditation. However, the extraordinary Government

gazette published on June 15 (in which the fee structures

were announced) is vague on when journalists and media

organizations must apply. It says only that the Commission

must act on applications within 60 days of receipt and that

media in existence before June 16 may continue to work

until their applications have been acted upon. This leaves

open the possibility that the GoZ could order police to

close any media organization and arrest any journalist who

has failed to file an application for license or

accreditation by COB on June 17. Given that the Commission

has not yet worked out all the bureaucratic details, sudden

closure of media organizations may be unlikely, but the

privately owned and international media believe they are

vulnerable to GoZ whim.

 

——————————————-

Demands for Sensitive Corporate Information

——————————————-

3. The application procedure demands that media license

applications be submitted with detailed and sensitive

corporate information. The required information includes

market analyses, information about the organization’s

financial backers, business plans, projected 3-year

earnings or losses, and the professional history of the

organization’s leaders. Clearly, this is not information a

business would chose to give its competitors. Nonetheless,

this requirement forces the privately owned media to

provide this sensitive proprietary information to the

government, which is, in essence, the competition.

 

 

————————————–

High Application and Registration Fees

————————————–

4. The sums being asked for application and registration

fees are very high. Local media organizations have to come

up with Z$20,000 to apply for a license and Z$500,000 if

they get one. This is not a problem for state-owned media

since they are able to rely on the government for funding,

but is a significant amount to Zimbabwe’s privately owned

newspapers. International media are hit even harder. For

example, to maintain their bureaus in Harare, Associated

Press and Reuters will each have to pay a US$2,000

application fee and US$10,000 for a license, if one is

granted. AP and Reuters are not sanguine that they will be

issued licenses and are not sure that, even if they do get

licenses, they are willing to pay the US$10,000 license

fee. We believe the GoZ would be delighted if the wire

services chose to move their operations rather than

acquiesce to a questionable law and pay these high fees.

Individual reporters will also be affected. The next time

a reporter from the New York Times or Washington Post wants

to visit Zimbabwe, they will be asked for a US$100

application fee and US$500 for the accreditation, if it is

granted. These exorbitant accreditation fees are certain

to diminish the number of journalists considering a

reporting trip to Zimbabwe. This result fits neatly in the

GoZ’s recent record of refusing media visas to

international reporters.

 

——————————–

Selective Application of the Law

——————————–

5. AIPPA was signed into law in mid March. Since then, 11

journalists (10 Zimbabweans and 1 American) have been

charged with 21 violations of the law. All of the

journalists charged have been from either the privately

owned or international media. Since AIPPA became law,

government owned newspapers have published many false

stories but not a single state-controlled journalist has

been arrested.

 

 

 

—————————————

Freedom of the Media Viewed as a Danger

—————————————

6.   The chairman of the Media Commission believes that an

unfettered press is a bad idea. Chairman Mahoso revealed

some of the philosophical underpinnings of AIPPA and the

aims of the Media Commission in an opinion piece he wrote

for the June 16 government-owned “Sunday Mail.” The

article was entitled “Neo-Colonial Media Seeks to Undermine

African Morale.” In this piece, Chairman Mahoso argues

that if the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then the

media must be more tightly controlled than weapons. He

writes: “…African nations are waking up to the fresh

need to own, manage and make accountable at least those

mass media based within their own borders. These media,

for the most part, have been employing foreign-borrowed

frames of free-flow of information, transparency and press

freedom in order to censor African history and to undermine

African morale.” In this and earlier articles, Chairman

Mahoso makes clear that he believes the media must be

tightly regulated. Chairman Mahoso’s boss, Information

Minister Jonathan Moyo, offered these thoughts at a June

15/16 media training workshop in Zimbabwe: “The greatest

challenge to any media organization is globalization. It

comes with several notions, such as the need for

transparency and good governance, among others. Media

organizations should question some of the notions and

verify whether they are par to (sic) the country’s point of

view or priorities for the country” (government-owned

“Herald” June 18, 2002).

 

————–

A Ray of Hope?

————–

7. The Foreign Correspondents Association in Zimbabwe

has filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of

AIPPA. Although a High Court Judge ruled in May that

the suit was not urgent (because, according to the

judge, “the law does not immediately threaten

journalists’ ability to practice their profession”),

the case will eventually be heard. While no one is

overly optimistic that the case will receive a fair

hearing, the suit does offer a small ray of hope that

the law could be declared a violation of the

constitutional right to freedom of expression. The

newly formed Zimbabwe National Editors Forum also

intends to challenge AIPPA in the courts. These two

legal challenges may, at the very least, delay the

GoZ’s ability to exercise complete control over all of

Zimbabwe’s media.

 

SULLIVAN

(22 VIEWS)

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