The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), with the approval of the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services recently gazetted the registration and accreditation fees for media companies and journalists in terms of Statutory Instrument (SI) 22 of 2021.
Section 61 of the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information.
Access to information is, therefore, a critical component of media freedom, of which that access facilitates further dissemination of information to the general public. For journalists to fully undertake their professional duties and access public institutions without hindrance, being duly accredited is of crucial importance in that regard.
The gazetting of the new fees is therefore welcome, as it will ensure that journalists undertake their professional duties with valid accreditation cards and without fear of arrest, harassment or assault.
This is in view of the media freedom violations that ensued when the country implemented the first national lockdown measures in 2020.
Several journalists were either assaulted or harassed by law enforcement officers for reportedly violating the COVID-19 regulations and undertaking their lawful professional duties using the then expired ZMC-issued accreditation cards.
Massive increases in accreditation and registration fees
MISA Zimbabwe, however, notes with concern the massive increase in this year’s fees when compared with those gazetted in 2020.
This is of concern given that this comes at a time when the media is facing serious sustainability and viability threats worsened by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses throughout the world, including in Zimbabwe.
For instance, the registration fees for mass media services, community mass media and news agency is pegged at ZW$60 000; ZW$30 000 and ZW$40 000 respectively. This is a massive increase of more than 400 per cent from last year’s fees which were placed at ZW$15 000; ZW$5 000 and ZW$8 000 for mass media services, community mass media and news agency respectively.
Accreditation fees for local journalists have been pegged at ZW$600 for first applicant and ZW$500 for renewal of accreditation, this was previously pegged at ZW$120 and ZW$80 respectively.
MISA Zimbabwe position
MISA Zimbabwe is cognisant of the hyperinflationary environment that Zimbabwe is operating under, but is of the view that this does not justify hiking the fees by more than 400 percent when viewed against the serious sustainability and viability challenges that the media sector in Zimbabwe is grappling with.
MISA Zimbabwe, therefore, reminds the Zimbabwe Media Commission and other constitutional bodies, that they have a constitutional duty to promote and defend the enjoyment of human rights.
This is why the bulk of their funding comes from the fiscus to facilitate the fulfilment of their mandates, and ultimately, the enjoyment of fundamental rights as provided for in our Constitution.
In that regard, responsible ministries such as the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, should be firm and resolute in their oversight considerations particularly where it concerns financially related regulations that have an impact on the exercise and enjoyment of rights.
Further, the impact of the ravaging pandemic calls upon the government and media stakeholders to reflect on the feasibility of the obtaining annual media registration and accreditation processes.
We have noted beyond any doubt, that the annual accreditation processes pose logistical nightmares, hence the need to consider periods between two and five years.
The proposed timelines will provide the Commission adequate time to plan and liaise with the Ministry in reviewing and gazetting fees seamlessly.
Meanwhile, MISA Zimbabwe urges the ZMC to decentralise and speedily undertake the registration and accreditation processes for the convenience of media companies and journalists in line with the current lockdown regulations and measures.