By Byron Mutingwende

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) advocates for self-regulation in setting out appropriate codes of behaviour for the media that are necessary to support freedom of expression and monitor the conduct of practitioners.
The sentiments were aired during an engagement meeting between members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on media, information and broadcasting services and media practitioners.

“Self-regulation preserves independence of the media and protects it from partisan interference. It could be more efficient as a system of regulation as the media understand their own environment better than government (though they may use that knowledge to further their own commercial interest rather than the public interest),”said Reyhana Masters, VMCZ board member.
Masters said self-regulation facilitates speedy redress to breaches of standards by the media and ensures that corrections to inaccuracies are published as soon as possible to counter possible reputation damage.

She further argued that statutory bodies are bound by legal processes and are by nature slow to respond to disputes.
“Self-regulation allows for cost effective redress as it can be more flexible and does not have to involve lawyers. On the other hand, it is accessible to all citizens and not just a few. Proponents of self-regulation also state that the codes enforced by industry regulators are developed and endorsed by the media and thus they are committed to abiding by these,” Masters added.

Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (ZINEF) chairperson Brian Mangwende, speaking on the same gathering, said key ethical and professional challenges that have crippled the media in the country include polarisation, bribes, restrictive media laws, poor tertiary training that has compromised the quality of reporting, partisan reporting and sensationalisation of stories.

He added that the media’s credibility as a democratic institution is enhanced if they are accountable to the public, acknowledge their mistakes and ensure that ethical and professional standards are upheld.
Mangwende averred that the government should have a minimal role in the professional aspect of the media and called for the setting up of a statutory body that will act as a referral or appeals centre.

“I will hasten to say that ZINEF and its membership support media self-regulation unreservedly. However in the current circumstances we will engage on co-regulation basing our views on the assumption that VMCZ will maintain its autonomy and will work closely with a statutory body that will act as an appeals body to the judgements of the VMCZ.”

Joe Thloloe, South Africa’s former Press Ombudsman said there is an independent media co-regulation in his country comprising members of the public drawn from the legal fraternity, business religion and media practitioners.

As recommendation, VMCZ called for the review of laws that criminalise journalism and replace them with a democratic media regulation law that encompasses the principle of media independence and the decriminalisation of freedom of expression. There was need to review all media codes and ethics and establish a broad, holistic, democratic code approved by all media and align current legislation to rights contained in the constitution, it noted.

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