Don’t insult the Prime Minister

Journalists who met in May 2009 in Kariba at a stakeholders conference made 13 recommendations one of which was to repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and another was not to insult the Prime Minister.

They said AIPPA should be replaced by two acts one on the Freedom of Information Act which would regulate access to information and privacy and the other, the Media Practitioners Act which would outline procedures for registration of journalists and provide for self-regulation by media practitioners.

Deputy Information Minister Jameson Timba said that he could not get the journalists to agree to repeal legislation against "insulting the president". Instead the new policy recommendation read, "the offense of insulting the President should also protect the Prime Minister".

 

Full cable:


Viewing cable 09HARARE395, MEDIA STAKEHOLDERS SPIN OUTCOME OF MEDIA CONFERENCE

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

09HARARE395

2009-05-13 16:12

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

VZCZCXRO3893

OO RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHRN

DE RUEHSB #0395/01 1331612

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 131612Z MAY 09 ZDK

FM AMEMBASSY HARARE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4470

INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE

RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 2816

RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 2936

RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 1379

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2199

RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 2564

RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 2984

RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 5425

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2108

RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000395

 

SIPDIS

 

AF/S FOR B. WALCH

DRL FOR N. WILETT

ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU

ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS

STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR MICHELLE GAVIN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2019

TAGS: ASEC KDEM PGOV PHUM PREL ZI

SUBJECT: MEDIA STAKEHOLDERS SPIN OUTCOME OF MEDIA CONFERENCE

 

REF: A. HARARE 390

B. HARARE 367

 

Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGEE for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

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SUMMARY

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1. (SBU) After several delays and despite a partial boycott,

the All-Stakeholders' Media Conference under the theme

"Towards an Open, Tolerant, and Responsible Media

Environment" went forward May 8-10 in Kariba, with about half

of the expected stakeholders present. The umbrella civil

society organization Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ)

boycotted the conference, reportedly because of the re-arrest

and continued detention of journalist Andrisson Shadreck

Manyere. While government officials, including the MDC

Deputy Minister of Information, painted a rosy picture of the

conference's outcome, some in civil society described the

recommendations as relatively cosmetic and just a small step

towards media freedom. News reports on the conference have

varied wildly, with various factions angling to present

skewed versions of events. Notably, the day after the

conference ended, two prominent independent journalists were

arrested for allegedly "publishing falsehoods," an indication

that independent media in Zimbabwe remains under attack.

While the conference represents a step towards liberalizing

information freedom and availability, the government has yet

to demonstrate the political will to make these changes a

reality. END SUMMARY.

 

-----------------------------

Conference On, Conference Off

-----------------------------

 

2. (C) On May 11, we met with Deputy Minister of Media,

Information, and Publicity, Jameson Timba (MDC-T), who

presented the conference as a significant strategic

accomplishment that will pave the way for media reform. He

said the conference was necessary to create a platform to

discuss media freedom, as described in the Short-Term

Economic Recovery Program (STERP), and the opening of media

space, as mandated in the September 15 Global Political

Agreement (GPA). Timba told us that his goal is to make his

ministry obsolete within six months, instead providing

official spokesmen to the various ministries.

 

3. (C) Timba explained that the conference was initially

planned in coordination with members of civil society,

including outspoken media groups Media Institute of Southern

Africa (MISA) and MAZ. MISA Director Takura Zhangazha told

us on May 12 that he participated in the design of the

initial agenda, and was pleased with it. However, according

to Timba, elements loyal to ZANU-PF, including Minister

Webster Shamu, disagreed with the program. The conference

was postponed pending a new agenda. Publicly, the

postponement was attributed to the death of Deputy Prime

Minister Thokozani Khupe's mother.

 

4. (C) Timba ceded control of the agenda of speakers to

Shamu, recognizing that the conference would be used as a

forum to blast the West. However, he maintained the thematic

workshops, which he described as the "heart" of the

Qworkshops, which he described as the "heart" of the

conference, on the basis that the sessions would engage

stakeholders to present suggestions that would become the

policy recommendations from the conference. Zhangazha told

us he and others were upset that they were excluded from the

process and didn't support this second agenda, which included

ZANU-PF aligned speakers they did not want to hear. He

dismissed the conference as a "government" conference that

did not produce recommendations from MISA and others. Upset

 

HARARE 00000395 002 OF 004

 

 

about the second draft of the agenda, MISA and others were

already discussing boycotting or moving for another delay

when the re-arrest of photojournalist Andrisson Shadreck

Manyere on May 5 (ref B) presented a face-saving rationale to

pull out. After unsuccessfully imploring MAZ to participate,

Timba announced it would be delayed, but only until May 8,

the day of Manyere's High Court hearing. Although Manyere

was not granted bail, the conference went forward, but only

with 85 of the 160 anticipated participants. Timba said

there were about 20 participants aligned to him and

democratic media and 65 aligned to ZANU-PF and state media

interests.

 

5. (C) Zimbabwe Union of Journalists President Matthew

Takaona, who attended the conference, described the boycott

as "unfortunate" and said that those who did not attend

missed out on an opportunity to present their views to

government. Takaona, whose presence was coordinated with

Timba, said that the recommendations from the conference were

encouraging but it would have been better if MAZ and more

democratically-minded journalists had been present.

 

------------------------------------------

Draft Conference Recommendations: Repeal

AIPPA, Form the Zimbabwe Media Commission,

and Don't Insult the Prime Minister

------------------------------------------

 

6. (C) Timba told us the conference thematic workshops

resulted in several recommendations, which he provided to us.

He is continuing to gather input from those organizations

and individuals who did not participate for further input.

Once he compiles the recommendations, he will present a

conference report to the Prime Minister who will present

policy recommendations to Cabinet. Once cabinet approves the

recommendations, draft legislation will be presented to

Parliament. Timba was confident about the prospects for

change by the "end of August" and said Shamu "buckles" under

pressure from the Prime Minister. He believes Minister Shamu

agrees with the current recommendations and will secure the

support of other ZANU-PF cabinet members to make the changes

legal.

 

7. (SBU) Of the 13 recommendations currently drafted, the

most significant is to repeal Access to Information and

Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and replace it with two

acts. First, the Freedom of Information Act would regulate

access to information and privacy. Timba said it would be

similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Second, the

Media Practitioners Act would outline procedures for

registration of journalists and provide for self-regulation

by media practitioners. The conference also recommends

amending other laws impacting the media, including the Public

Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Criminal codification

act. Zhangazha and other journalists scoffed at this, saying

there are already laws to regulate media registration and

that AIPPA and POSA should be repealed and not amended or

Qthat AIPPA and POSA should be repealed and not amended or

replaced with anything else.

 

8. (SBU) The Zimbabwe Media Commission, which would replace

the Media and Information Commission, should also be

established. According to Timba, the ZMC will be comprised

of members appointed by Parliament and will uphold the

enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act and the Media

Practitioners Act.

 

9. (C) Timba told us that he could not get the participants

to agree to repeal legislation against "insulting the

president." The new policy recommendation reads, "the

offense of insulting the President should also protect the

Prime Minister." Separately, the conference recommended that

criminal defamation should be repealed because laws providing

 

HARARE 00000395 003 OF 004

 

 

for civil defamation already exist.

 

10. (C) The conference recommendations also touch on

international investment and involvement in media. The draft

recommendations say, "access to the media industry and

especially broadcasting should be allowed to foreign

investors to the extent of 49 percent maximum" and "there

must be no foreign investment in community broadcasters. Only

foreign donations which must be verified to ensure that such

donations do not amount to control of the broadcaster."

Takaona described these as positive moves that would allow

for additional funding for local broadcasters that would

further open media space. However, it appears this language

-- if implemented -- could easily be used to shut down or

frustrate community radio stations or other media outlets

(like Voice of America) that rely heavily on foreign funding

and may not have Zimbabwean financial support. They

represent an echo of dangerous language from the GPA

disapproving of "foreign broadcasters" (e.g. VOA, BBC and SW

Radio Africa).

 

----------------------------------------

Journalists Jailed After Conference Ends

----------------------------------------

 

11. (C) On May 9, in the midst of the conference, police went

to the offices of The Zimbabwe Independent in Harare, looking

for editor Vincent Kahiya and news editor Constantine

Chimakure. Police sought to arrest the two in connection

with an article published on the May 8 that detailed the

contents of the indictments against abductees Jestina Mukoko

and others (ref A). The article included the names and ranks

of the police officers involved in the abductions and

investigations of the abductees. (COMMENT: Lawyers from

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) told us on May 8

that the indictments -- which became public when they were

issued on May 4 -- were essential in providing them with

additional information on the perpetrators of the abductions,

torture, and investigations of Mukoko and others. END

COMMENT.)

 

12. (U) On May 11, Kahiya and Chimakure went to the police

station, as requested, with their lawyer. After being

interrogated for several hours, they were arrested and

charged under section 31 of the Criminal Law, "publishing

falsehoods with the intention of undermining public

confidence in law enforcement agents." In court on May 12,

they were granted US$200 bail and will next appear in court

on May 28. They are required to check in with police weekly

until then. Journalists have been outraged over the arrests.

 

------------------------------------

Sanctions and Spin on the Conference

------------------------------------

 

13. (C) Despite the conference's aim to encourage

"responsible" media, the ZANU-PF mouthpiece The Herald has

published several articles mischaracterizing the content of

the conference. On May 11, The Herald ran a front page

article under the headline "Scrap sanctions to level media

Qarticle under the headline "Scrap sanctions to level media

playing field." The article went on to continue the attack

against U.S. and EU sanctions, claiming that "speaker after

speaker" had "detailed the debilitating effects the sanctions

have had on media houses, training institutions, and the

welfare of journalists." Takaona, however, told us that The

Herald article was "a lie" and that sanctions were mentioned

in passing and in the hallways. Timba also told us that some

participants acknowledged sanctions have not impacted the

media.

 

14. (C) On May 12, The Herald twisted a statement by Minister

of Information, Communication, and Technology Nelson Chamisa

 

HARARE 00000395 004 OF 004

 

 

(MDC-T) under the headline "Minister hails stakeholders'

media conference." The article further implies Chamisa was

critical of MISA's boycott. Zhangazha cited the two news

articles as evidence that The Herald continues to serve as a

ZANU-PF mouthpiece that is out to distort events for

ZANU-PF's own favor, an indication that the media environment

remains stifled and controlled.

 

15. (C) Timba brushed aside criticism of the conference's

portrayal in The Herald, telling us "this is a high-level

political game that I have no intention of losing." He

expressed confidence that the short-term press blasting

sanctions and the West will die down, having initially served

ZANU-PF's political purposes, giving way to the more

substantive, positive media reforms the conference proposed.

 

16. (C) Zhangazha, in contrast, believed that Timba's rosy

assessment of the conference and The Herald articles

represented attempts to legitimize the "All Stakeholders

Conference" that only included half of the media

stakeholders. Zhangazha told us that, in light of Manyere's

continued detention, the arrests at The Independent, and The

Herald's continued propaganda, now is the "wrong time" and

"wrong environment" to negotiate. MISA, unlike Timba, does

not have a short-term political agenda and prefers to focus

on long-term needs rather than over compromise its position

for short-term political gains. Zhangazha, who has closely

followed Zimbabwean politics for years, believes that Timba

was seeking to complete these "cosmetic" recommendations

before PM Tsvangirai completed his first 100 days in office

(May 22), leading him to rush the conference. Despite his

many criticisms, Zhangazha agreed that the recommendations

indicated a step forward, but not nearly enough change for

him to be satisfied.

 

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COMMENT

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17. (C) The continued lack of media freedom, as reflected by

Monday's arrests of two prominent journalists, remains one of

the most important and difficult challenges facing the

transitional government. The mere occurrence of a media

conference that included both MDC and ZANU-PF affiliated

participants indicates that some progress is, indeed, inching

in the right direction. More accurately, the conference

represented a political accomplishment for Timba, in his

maneuvering against the ZANU-PF forces that control the

media. Zhangazha is correct to describe the current

recommendations as "cosmetic." Zimbabwe needs not only

significant legal reforms to improve the media environment in

Zimbabwe, but the political will to make such changes a

reality. The conference and subsequent recommendations would

not even be necessary if ZANU-PF members of the "old guard"

were willing to face the public criticism and scrutiny that

comes with an open media environment. Judging by Monday's

arrests -- which resulted from publication of information

contained in public documents -- that political will is still

Qcontained in public documents -- that political will is still

lacking. END COMMENT.

 

MCGEE

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