On Friday, February 26, 2016, SAPST hosted the Speaker’s Dialogue Forum where the Speaker of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Hon. Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda, met representatives from the media fratenity at Parliament building. The meeting was meant to enhance objective parliamentary reporting and afford media practitioners a platform for them to interact with the Speaker on concerns they may have hindering their coverage of parliamentary business.
Speaking on SAPST’s behalf, Israel underlined the key role that the media plays in the governance matrix and indicated that he hope the platform would enhance dialogue between Parliament and the media to ensure that the media fully plays its role in reporting parliamentary proceedings.
In his prepared remarks, the Speaker highlighted that it is within Parliament’s strategic interest to interact with CSOs and the media. The Speaker explained the relationship by stating that although Parliament deals with the hope, aspirations and will of Zimbabweans, the media is responsible for reporting that will and while at the same time being an informative source of parliamentary news. He further emphasised the role that the media can play in giving effect to Section 141 of the Constitution given its wide reach. However, he further spoke of the need to balance media freedom with the permissible limitations that are placed on it under the Constitution and thus implored on the media to be standard bearers of integrity by reporting truthfully on Parliamentary proceedings.
The Speaker took the participants through provisions of the Constitution, Standing orders and Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act [Chapter 2:08] that have an impact on the media’s work in relation to Parliament. In particular he emphasised on
- Select Committee Rule 14 prohibiting the publishing of evidence given before, or any paper forming part of the records of a Committee before such Committee has reported its proceedings to Parliament. Publishing such information can attract a charge of contempt of Parliament. The Speaker clarified that the Rule relates to reporting on proceedings of closed door meetings and committee sessions where evidence in given “in camera”, but not to public hearings and other Committee meetings open to members of the public. The Speaker noted that this is general practice across the world and is reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society. The Rule is meant to protect the integrity of witnesses and allow for verification of evidence before a report is tabled in the plenary.
- Publishing falsehoods on parliamentary proceedings (non-factual reports), malicious or injurious reporting or misrepresenting/slanting proceedings or speech made in Parliament or relating to Members and Staff of Parliament as these are not protected by the Constitution.
- Media freedom is not absolute and should respect the rights of others as provided by the derogations in the Constitution.
In addition, the Speaker called on media practitioners to make use of the Hansard, Order Paper and Schedule of Committee Meetings to be aware of what’s happening in Parliament. In particular, he highlighted the Order Paper and the Schedule as means through which the media can pre-empt what will be taking place in Parliament. He also challenged participants to familiarise themselves with Standing Orders as they are the operating rules of Parliament.
Lastly, the Speaker gave practical examples of case law to demonstrate how the media can be in contempt of Parliament and requested media practitioners to help Parliament buttress its role of protecting the Constitution. He reiterated that Parliament will always rely on the media.
The Speaker’s presentation set the tone for a lively question and answer session where media practitioners posed a number of questions and comments to the Speaker’s address including;
- Media practitioners are working on setting up a Zimbabwe Parliamentary Reporters Forum that will be brining journalists’ concerns to Parliament in a more organised manner. They hoped the Forum will allow for regular interaction with the leadership of Parliament. The Speaker encouraged the media to quickly set up the Forum and even suggested formalising the Parliament’s relationship with the Forum in the form of an MOU. The media practitioners also requested a workshop to unpack parliamentary terms among other topics. SAPST undertook to fund the workshop once the Forum was organised.
- New accreditation requirements that are more stringent to what is required by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and when journalists cover the Head of State. The Speaker informed participants that the additional, onerous requirements had been scrapped, and asked journalists to contact the Public Relations Office if they encountered any difficulties.
- Security personnel taking up journalists space in the press gallery. The Speaker reminded journalists that sitting arrangements will be looked into so that journalists are given preference when it comes to sitting space in the press gallery. The Speaker also called on journalists to self-govern to ensure that incidences where one media house has more than one journalist at Parliament are minimised since the space in the press gallery is limited.
- Accreditation cards and straps disappearing at the Kwame Nkrumah entrance. The Speaker promised to look into the matter and called on Parliament to set up a security system to avoid such incidences.
- ZBC TV engineers being denied access to Parliament as they are not recognised as journalists and have no accreditation from ZMC. ZBC staff was advised that all access arrangements need to be made prior to any event and if names are submitted, they will be cleared in advance.
- Media practitioners requested Parliament to mediate between them and the Minister of Finance for journalists to get advance access to the budget statement prior to its presentation. The Speaker promised to take the issue up, although he cautioned that the document is not Parliament’s to determine when the journalists can get it. Even when Parliament gets the budget statement, sometimes insufficient hard copies are availed, although Parliament tries to upload the budget statement to its website soon after it has been presented.
- ZBC live coverage being cut short because Ministers and MPs would have left just after Question and Answer on Wednesdays. The Speaker implored the media to make an issue out of the empty seats so that the public can demand answers from their representatives. ZBC also indicated that it intends to cover more sessions of Parliament since ZBC will be going digital and would want more content.
- Limit on the use of cameras to ZBC personnel. Some journalists also suggested that Parliament provide a press room for interviews as well as for it to be responsible for a live feed that will then be used by media practitioners. The Speaker indicated that during state events, Parliament defers security issues and may not be in a position to make exceptions. However, he acknowledged that Parliament needs to move with time and embrace new technologies. He also promised that the new Parliament will have a press room and a radio station to cover proceedings.
- Requests for access to Parliament library going unanswered. The Speaker advised that all correspondence with Parliament should go through the Clerk’s office and will be responded to accordingly.