Access to information

Access to Information

Campaign for Freedom of Expression and the Right to Information

It is your fundamental human right to ask for, and receive, information held by public organisations and bodies. It is critically important to make sure information held by public, and in some cases private, institutions is available and accessible to citizens.

The right to seek, access and receive information is guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 4 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. It is also recognised in many of the Constitutions of southern African countries.

The right to express oneself is a fundamental human right outlined in International Law. However, most societies would agree there are types of expression that are not acceptable and which conflict with other human rights, such as promoting hate speech.

For this reason, Governments use laws to limit freedom of expression if it conflicts with other human rights, such as the protection of the rights or reputations of others, national security, public order, public health and morals. Unfortunately, governments, private institutions and individuals around the world can abuse such limitations, using legislation and the judicial system unjustly to control expression and quash opposing views.

Priorities: Realignment of media laws with the new constitution, research, community engagement, lobbying government and parliament, awareness raising; media industry engagement, engagement of public bodies on access to information (ATI).

Activities: Information kiosks, meetings (lobbying, community,) publishing papers, press club meetings, workshops with (MPs, local government, ministries, political parties ), training workshops, publishing community newsletters.

Expected Outcomes: New democratic media laws, public knowledge and support for reforms, community participation, enhanced public access to information, media stakeholder support of ATI and Freedom of Expression (FoX), continued parliamentary debates on ATI.

In 2012, The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) announced the creation of the 13-member Zimbabwe Media Council, as provided for under AIPPA. The ZMC is tasked with standardizimg the licensing of publications and journalists. The council is tendered with generating codes of conduct for print media and has the authority to inflict penalties on media houses that contravene the codes. However, as of 2014, chronic underfunding has greatly constrained its capacity to fulfill this mandate.

The independent Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), a self-regulatory body comprising all types of media that is supported by a majority of print outlets, and has continued to develop its scope of activities. In 2014 it commenced the conduction of training workshops for journalists on operating in Zimbabwe’s complex legal environment. The potential for competition between these dual regulatory frameworks has raised concern among local analysts.

The 2013 constitution provides for freedom of expression and access to information, subject to some limitations, and was seen as an improvement on its predecessor. However, an otherwise unjustly harsh legal framework continues to impede the activities of journalists and media outlets. The 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) requires all journalists and media companies to register, allowing the information minister the authority to decide which publications can operate legally and who is able to work as a journalist. Unlicensed journalists can face criminal charges and a sentence of up to two years in prison. In addition, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act severely limit what journalists may publish and mandate harsh penalties—including long prison sentences—for violators. The 2007 Interception of Communications Act allows officials to intercept telephonic and electronic communications and to monitor their content to prevent a “serious offense” or a “threat to national security.”

In 2014, press freedom in Zimbabwe remained constrained with only minor improvements in the media environment, following a Constitutional Court ruling on criminal defamation and a comparative decrease of physical attacks against journalists in a nonelection year. However, a continued lack of movement to enact regulatory reforms, essentially in the broadcast sector, remained a key concern.

Although the right to information is theoretically provided for under AIPPA—subject to a number of exemptions—in practice the relevant provisions of the law are not operational and accessing official information remains extremely difficult. The colonial-era Official Secrets Act is also used to keep tight control over information.