By Tafadzwa Muranganwa
The proliferation of citizen journalism, blogging, and vlogging among other alternative media have made the definition of a professional journalist in Zimbabwe difficult. This was heard at the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) engagement meeting on Wednesday.
Media stakeholders including the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and the National Association of Freelance Journalists (NAFJ) unanimously agreed that the Media Practitioners’ Bill should clearly set the definition of a journalist.
“In the Media Practitioners’ Bill, there should be a clear definition of a journalist not that anyone with a smartphone can be described as a journalist,” ZINEF national coordinator Njabula Ncube said.
“The bill must also facilitate better practices of journalism rather than punitive provisions against journalism,” Ncube added.
However, media expert Rashweat Mukundu said in as much as stakeholders want the Media Practitioners Bill to clearly separate professional journalists from other alternative media, there is a need to acknowledge the newest forms of media.
“In our advocacy, while we are adamant that the bill should set the definition of a journalist, let’s not be blinded that there is the rise in citizen journalism and other forms of alternative media.
“So we need to think how these can also be regulated away from the Media Practitioners’ Bill of course,” cautioned Mukundu.
According to media law expert Chris Mhike, the Media Practitioners’ Bill provides for co-regulation of the media sector which is a compromise by the media stakeholders against the international best practices of self-regulation.
“Co-regulation of the media sector is a compromise. The ideal form of regulation for most progressive nations is self-regulation,” he cited.
This was also echoed by the ZUJ Secretary-General, Perfect Hlongwane, who said as stakeholders they will continue to push for self-regulation.
The MISA’s ICT and legal officer, Nompilo Simanje, said the current media laws and the constitution make the status of the media regulation statutory hence the push for co-regulation is difficult.
“The status of media regulation is statutory as evidenced in the current media laws. It is also more entrenched through the constitution and this makes the debate on co-regulation difficult,” she alerted.
The stakeholders also appealed for the amendment of the Broadcasting Services Act to allow the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) to periodically call for licensing rather than when it deems necessary.
It was noted that the Cyber and Data Protection Act’s provision which makes publishing false data messages will hinder the work of journalists. Recently, two Alpha Media journalists Desmond Chingarande and Wisdom Mudzungairi were arrested for contravening this act.