The big interview BY VENERANDA LANGA
INFORMATION minister Monica Mutsvangwa says Zimbabweans must brace themselves for a raft of media reforms as her ministry moves to align various laws with the constitution.
Mutsvangwa (MM) told our senior reporter Veneranda Langa (VL) that the major thrust of the reforms will be to improve access to information and to guarantee freedom of expression.
She also revealed that the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was set for a major overhaul. Below are excerpts from the interview.
VL: What are the media reforms that we can expect from your ministry in the short term?
MM: The new reforms are meant to align our laws to the constitution and modernise our media landscape as well.
These reforms are inspired by the aspirations and value systems set in our constitution.
We have taken those as the minimum standard, but we did not end there.
We went for the gold standard by incorporating different international conventions that Zimbabwe is a signatory to.
In the short term you would expect that once our boards have been cleared, then we will licence other players to operate in the broadcasting space.
You will continue to see our efforts to depolarise the industry and the country at large.
VL: What are the Bills that are likely to come before Parliament? What will be the difference between the envisaged new legislation and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA)?
MM: I believe I should bring the Bills before Cabinet within the next three weeks, after which we will trigger the parliamentary process. The difference with the new information Bills will be that we are not mixing unrelated issues.
Media regulation is a separate issue from issues of the right of access to information as guaranteed by section 61 of the constitution.
Those issues should not be mixed as was the issue with AIPPA.
Issues like criminal defamation are also put off the law. In terms of protection of privacy, we have focused on the protection of personal information given to public and private bodies and not use the law as a means of hiding public officials from accountability and scrutiny.
We have also removed the issue of “controlling” the media and are now centred on “regulating”.
On freedom of information, we have also proposed that it’s not only public bodies, which should provide access to information, but private ones as well, as long as the information is of public interest or is used to protect rights.
VL: Are we likely to have broadcasting reforms? When are we likely to see new television licences issued?
MM: Principles to amending the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) are ready for presentation to Cabinet.
Keep an eye on the post-Cabinet briefing. Once Cabinet has taken a position on the proposals, the public will be informed.
Regarding licensing, as I said before, that depends on the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) board being in place.
Once that is done, BAZ will issue licences. Regarding online services that do not use the finite frequency spectrum, BAZ will issue those on a continuing basis without any need to call out (for applications).
We have consulted the Attorney-General on this and we are advised that we do not need a board in place to issue these licences.
VL: There are reports of bad blood between you and your deputy, Energy Mutodi, especially over his utterances on social media. At one time he suggested that there must be a Cabinet reshuffle and you were seen as one of his targets. How do you relate with your deputy?
MM: There is no bad blood between my deputy Honourable Mutodi and I, as we are both appointees of the president.
Government decisions are made in Cabinet where I sit as the minister.
Anything outside of that forum is hearsay, speculation, wishful thinking or plain gossip.
Within the ministry, the permanent secretary is the government accounting officer.
The deputy minister is there to help the two in the ministerial commission. Our jobs are very clearly defined.
Regarding what transpires on social media, I am sure the pertinent bloggers can best answer for their posts that lie out of the purview of my ministry.
As regards possible reshuffles — that is strictly and solely the domain of the president, who is the nationally elected head of the executive.
I dare not and will not ever stray where even political angels fear to tread.
VL: There are also reports that on several occasions presidential spokesperson George Charamba has dismissed whatever your ministry has said. An example is the issue of Charamba’s comments that people should not believe everything posted on Mnangagwa’s official Twitter account as there are people trying to put words into his mouth. Your ministry runs another Twitter handle which tells people to believe in everything posted on Mnangagwa’s account. What should people believe?
MM: The President has unequivocally pronounced himself on his Twitter account.
He said that’s his account and what is posted there are his views and positions.
I don’t need to continue to assert the authority of his Twitter handle because he has done that himself.
VL: Is there some truth in reports that Charamba is still pulling the strings within the Information ministry?
MM: I am in charge of my ministry. I wouldn’t know what other people want to do or are thinking of doing.
They would be the best people to answer for themselves.
VL: Can you give the nation an update on Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri’s health conditions following announcements that they were seriously ill?
MM: I have no current update on Honourable VP Chiwenga. On Defence minister Honourable Muchinguri, she is fine.
I believe you have seen her attending public engagements in a good state of health.
You have seen her with His Excellency the president at the India-Africa hub and other engagements.
She has been coming to her office and attending public engagements.
VL: There are reports that Zimpapers editors that were recently suspended or fired were victims of your interference and that you wanted to appoint your loyalists. What is your reaction to that?
MM: Caesar Zvayi is not fired and I am sure he can affirm that. He is actually still working for Zimpapers in a more expansive role than before.
Zimpapers group is a Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-traded company. Its corporate governance conforms to the ZSE rules.
As a growing stable, Zimpapers and its board have the corporate discretion to deploy its staff as it sees fit.
The ministry keeps an arm’s length relationship with the Zimpapers group. Our nominal influence is exercised through a trust as one of the many shareholders.
Through this channel, we recommend policy directions. We are not involved in personnel issues.
VL: Can we look forward to a reformed ZBC because people have been complaining that their programming is not up to standard? If so, what will be the improvements?
MM: ZBC reported having a challenging technical problem, hence their unfortunate and inadvertent failure to broadcast the monetary policy statement (last Wednesday).
They also experienced some of these hitches during the Motlanthe Commission sittings. We are addressing the challenges.
But from a policy point of view, they are a national broadcaster and should run current affairs programmes of national interest when they do occur.
We have programmes to turn around ZBC as well as help change its public image.
We will revamp its image and the quality of its programmes.