Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

Zimbabwe: Drop criminal defamation charges

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 5 August 2011
Cite as Article 19, Zimbabwe: Drop criminal defamation charges, 5 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e524cb12.html [accessed 23 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the relevant authorities to immediately drop the criminal defamation charges brought against Madanhire and Nyangove. We also urge the state authorities to abolish the statutory Media Council and refer such matters to the Media Complaints Committee (MCC) set up by journalists as a self-regulatory voluntary mechanism. 

Both the prosecution of the Standard journalist and the creation of government-controlled statutory media body constitute another serious blow to the freedom of expression climate in the country and warrants an urgent response from the Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression of the African Union and the United Nations.

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the criminal defamation prosecution of these journalists which once again highlights the Zimbabwean authorities' systematic interference in media freedom. We will follow closely the criminal proceedings brought against Madanhire and Nyangove and monitor the activities of the newly established media council.

Madanhire and Nyangove were arrested by the police on 29th June following an article published in the Standard in the same month. The article was about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a Minister who was taken into police custody on the weekend of the 24th June 2011.  The article singled out the participation of a police agent during the arrest, who has previously been accused by human rights activists of abducting and torturing human rights campaigners and journalists. Following the publication of the article, the authorities launched criminal proceedings against the journalists for defamation of the police agent in question on the basis that he was not present during the police arrest.

ARTICLE 19 seriously condemns the use of criminal defamation as a matter of principle, in part due to the serious chilling effect it exerts on freedom of expression. We condemn both the arrest and criminal prosecution of the Standard journalists, as they constitute an arbitrary interference with their right to freedom of expression. We remind the Zimbabwean authorities that merely reporting about the arrest and police operation does not amount to defamation.

Vigorous debate about the manner in which public officials operate is an important aspect of democracy; hence, even if the journalists were mistaken about the facts surrounding the arrest, these factual errors can be excused in view of the overriding serious public interest. Finally, state authorities, including police officers, should be more tolerant to criticism and respond to it, via words instead of issuing lawsuits.

Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the establishment of a statutory Media Council, by the Zimbabwean government. ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly highlighted how statutory media councils, such as the one set up  in Zimbabwe in May 2011, endanger the independence of the media and impinge on the free flow of information which is fundamental for any democratic society.

It is well established that media self-regulation, whereby the media develops editorial guidelines and a code of journalist ethics, as well as examines press related complaints, is highly preferable to regulation imposed by a statutory authority.  In this respect, we point out that the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa explicitly recognises that "effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media."

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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