ZIMBABWE National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) yesterday resolved that media houses and practitioners should challenge the constitutionality of the country’s criminal defamation as it stifled freedom of the press.
The resolution was passed during a Zinef-organised breakfast meeting in Harare. The meeting was attended by most media houses in the capital and organisations such as Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe and Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe.
“The media fraternity should look into ways to challenge the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws in light of the new constitutional provisions on media freedom,” Zinef said.
The meeting was held in the context of rising cases of journalists charged with civil and criminal defamation law breaches in the courts despite the country adopting a new Constitution that recognises for the first time media and press freedom.
Some of the laws that still contain sections that criminalise defamation are the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Jonathan Moyo-coined Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Editors said Zimbabwe’s judiciary had over the years noted that defamation laws were being abused to stifle media freedoms but did not move on to rule the laws unconstitutional.
“It remains imperative that the media should challenge the constitutionality of the defamation laws before the Constitutional Court so that once and for all we have an unambiguous position on the matter,” Zinef said.
The meeting also looked at the high defamation damages demanded by injured parties at the courts saying the amounts were not related to the economic reality prevailing in the country.
Zinef added: “The laws should be reviewed to put a cap on the amount of damages a party can claim, not the present circumstances where some of the damages may force media houses to wind down if they are awarded.”
Yesterday three staffers from the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe stable, publishers of the Daily News, appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court charged with criminal defamation. Daily News editor Stanley Gama, reporter Fungi Kwaramba and company representative Zweli Sibanda were not asked to plead when they appeared before Harare provincial magistrate Douglas Chikwekwe who remanded them out of custody to May 15 for trial.
Gama and Kwaramba were arrested last month following publication of a series of articles alleged to be defamatory to the complainant, Kamal Khalfan, an Omani national resident in Zimbabwe.