- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe The government backtracked dramatically yesterday on its sweeping media control laws, indicating they will not be imposed immediately and may not be enforced at all, a state-run newspaper reported.
The Herald newspaper, an official publication used to publicize official policy, reported that the office of the attorney general, the government's chief law officer, said the bill "may take quite some time before it becomes law, if at all."
President Robert Mugabe has not signed the proposed Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill into law. The Harare parliament passed the legislation Thursday with last-minute amendments "rushed through without proper consultation," the Herald said.
The paper, quoting an unidentified government official, said it will take time to fund, staff and equip the media commission and that the Department of Information will not be able to "preoccupy" itself with such a task because Mr. Mugabe started his presidential campaign Friday.
Critics say the media bill and new security laws enforced since Jan. 18 were part of a package of legislation aimed at stifling dissent ahead of presidential election next month.
Mr. Mugabe, 77, is fighting for his political survival as his popularity wanes after nearly 22 years of authoritarian rule. He faces Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whose party won nearly half the seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
The proposed legislation makes it illegal for journalists to operate without government accreditation. It creates a state-appointed commission that can withdraw licenses, confiscate equipment and jail journalists for up to two years.
It also limits visits by foreign journalists to specific time periods on assignments first cleared by Zimbabwe's embassies in their home countries.
The independent Daily News reported yesterday that Information Minister Jonathan Moyo clashed with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa over the bill.
The Daily News said Mr. Chinamasa watered down clauses in the original bill that made Mr. Moyo one of the most powerful government ministers. Mr. Moyo would have assumed sweeping powers to rule on violations and to order police to seize media equipment.
Lawmakers passed amendments after the parliamentary legal committee declared Mr. Moyo's original proposals unconstitutional and "the most determined assault" on constitutional liberties since independence in 1980.
They removed a clause barring journalists from criticizing the president and deleted another provision barring journalists from quoting other media reports without permission and giving government-accredited journalists the right to continue using that accreditation until it expires at the end of the year.
Mr. Moyo said he had not had a chance to review, "let alone agree with," some of the amendments, the Herald said yesterday. He also denied that the proposed laws were aimed at stifling election coverage, saying his department was accrediting foreign and national journalists for the elections.
Speaking at his first campaign rally Friday in Mutawatawa, a remote trading center 100 miles northeast of Harare, Mr. Mugabe accused his main rival of serving the interests of the country's white minority and the former colonial power, Britain.


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