Cablegate: New Media Licensing Requirements - Another Means

Published: Wed 19 Jun 2002 05:09 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary: On June 15 the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ)
published new media registration and licensing regulations.
The new regulations are mandated under the controversial
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(AIPPA). AIPPA became law on March 15, 2002 and has since
gained international notoriety for its use exclusively
against journalists working for the privately owned and
international media. The GoZ has used AIPPA's prohibition
on "publishing falsehoods" to arrest 11 journalists on 21
different charges in the last 6 weeks. In our analysis,
the new media licensing requirements give GoZ policy makers
a new and more powerful weapon in their campaign to control
all media operating in Zimbabwe. This cable offers an
overview of the main features of the new regulations and
how they will increase GoZ ability to control the media.
Implementation Not Clear
2. When and how the media must comply with the new
licensing and accreditation requirements is unclear and
makes media vulnerable to sudden closure. AIPPA provided
for the establishment of a Media Commission to oversee all
licensing and accreditation issues. Last week Media
Commission Chairman Tafataona Mahoso said that media
organizations and journalists working before June 16 could
continue to work under existing company registration and
accreditation. However, the extraordinary Government
gazette published on June 15 (in which the fee structures
were announced) is vague on when journalists and media
organizations must apply. It says only that the Commission
must act on applications within 60 days of receipt and that
media in existence before June 16 may continue to work
until their applications have been acted upon. This leaves
open the possibility that the GoZ could order police to
close any media organization and arrest any journalist who
has failed to file an application for license or
accreditation by COB on June 17. Given that the Commission
has not yet worked out all the bureaucratic details, sudden
closure of media organizations may be unlikely, but the
privately owned and international media believe they are
vulnerable to GoZ whim.
Demands for Sensitive Corporate Information
3. The application procedure demands that media license
applications be submitted with detailed and sensitive
corporate information. The required information includes
market analyses, information about the organization's
financial backers, business plans, projected 3-year
earnings or losses, and the professional history of the
organization's leaders. Clearly, this is not information a
business would chose to give its competitors. Nonetheless,
this requirement forces the privately owned media to
provide this sensitive proprietary information to the
government, which is, in essence, the competition.
High Application and Registration Fees
4. The sums being asked for application and registration
fees are very high. Local media organizations have to come
up with Z$20,000 to apply for a license and Z$500,000 if
they get one. This is not a problem for state-owned media
since they are able to rely on the government for funding,
but is a significant amount to Zimbabwe's privately owned
newspapers. International media are hit even harder. For
example, to maintain their bureaus in Harare, Associated
Press and Reuters will each have to pay a US$2,000
application fee and US$10,000 for a license, if one is
granted. AP and Reuters are not sanguine that they will be
issued licenses and are not sure that, even if they do get
licenses, they are willing to pay the US$10,000 license
fee. We believe the GoZ would be delighted if the wire
services chose to move their operations rather than
acquiesce to a questionable law and pay these high fees.
Individual reporters will also be affected. The next time
a reporter from the New York Times or Washington Post wants
to visit Zimbabwe, they will be asked for a US$100
application fee and US$500 for the accreditation, if it is
granted. These exorbitant accreditation fees are certain
to diminish the number of journalists considering a
reporting trip to Zimbabwe. This result fits neatly in the
GoZ's recent record of refusing media visas to
international reporters.
Selective Application of the Law
5. AIPPA was signed into law in mid March. Since then, 11
journalists (10 Zimbabweans and 1 American) have been
charged with 21 violations of the law. All of the
journalists charged have been from either the privately
owned or international media. Since AIPPA became law,
government owned newspapers have published many false
stories but not a single state-controlled journalist has
been arrested.
Freedom of the Media Viewed as a Danger
6. The chairman of the Media Commission believes that an
unfettered press is a bad idea. Chairman Mahoso revealed
some of the philosophical underpinnings of AIPPA and the
aims of the Media Commission in an opinion piece he wrote
for the June 16 government-owned "Sunday Mail." The
article was entitled "Neo-Colonial Media Seeks to Undermine
African Morale." In this piece, Chairman Mahoso argues
that if the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then the
media must be more tightly controlled than weapons. He
writes: "...African nations are waking up to the fresh
need to own, manage and make accountable at least those
mass media based within their own borders. These media,
for the most part, have been employing foreign-borrowed
frames of free-flow of information, transparency and press
freedom in order to censor African history and to undermine
African morale." In this and earlier articles, Chairman
Mahoso makes clear that he believes the media must be
tightly regulated. Chairman Mahoso's boss, Information
Minister Jonathan Moyo, offered these thoughts at a June
15/16 media training workshop in Zimbabwe: "The greatest
challenge to any media organization is globalization. It
comes with several notions, such as the need for
transparency and good governance, among others. Media
organizations should question some of the notions and
verify whether they are par to (sic) the country's point of
view or priorities for the country" (government-owned
"Herald" June 18, 2002).
A Ray of Hope?
7. The Foreign Correspondents Association in Zimbabwe
has filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of
AIPPA. Although a High Court Judge ruled in May that
the suit was not urgent (because, according to the
judge, "the law does not immediately threaten
journalists' ability to practice their profession"),
the case will eventually be heard. While no one is
overly optimistic that the case will receive a fair
hearing, the suit does offer a small ray of hope that
the law could be declared a violation of the
constitutional right to freedom of expression. The
newly formed Zimbabwe National Editors Forum also
intends to challenge AIPPA in the courts. These two
legal challenges may, at the very least, delay the
GoZ's ability to exercise complete control over all of
Zimbabwe's media.
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