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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 14:39 GMT
Media rounds on Zimbabwe law
Journalist protest
Some journalists say they are prepared to go to jail
Media groups and independent journalists have denounced the passage of legislation in Zimbabwe's parliament that is expected to place severe restrictions on press freedom.

We defy everything in this (bill)

Basildon Peta
Head of Zimbabwe's union of journalists

The controversial media law, which limits the freedoms of independent and foreign journalists, was passed on Thursday.

The legislation essentially gags the independent press ahead of the country's most contentious presidential elections in March, free press advocates say.

Media gag

"We defy everything in this (bill)," Basildon Peta, who heads Zimbabwe's union of journalists, told the Associated Press news agency.

Zimbabwe parliament
The bill faced criticism from within Mr Mugabe's own party

It's a fascist piece of legislation...with the main purpose of gagging the media," he said.

Mr Peta and other independent journalists have said they would risk imprisonment and not register for the accreditation that will be required under the new bill.

The bill was passed with minor amendments after a heated parliamentary debate, ultimately sailing through when opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislators declined to vote.

The state-owned Herald Newspaper reported: "Parliament yesterday passed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill with no objection from the MDC."

"A (ruling) Zanu-PF MP applauded the committee for working tirelessly to produce a bill acceptable to both sides of the House," the Herald said.

"Some MDC MP's voiced some concerns," it added.

'Repressive society'

The editor of the Zimbabwean Independent, Iden Weatherell, took a different view.

"The purpose of the bill is to silence the media and to make sure the only voice that is heard is President (Robert) Mugabe's," he told AP news agency.

The Independent warned against letting the media bill divert attention from other serious issues.

"Opponents of the Zimbabwe Government have become so preoccupied with the media bill just passed by parliament that they have lost sight - understandably so - of the other two repressive laws passed recently," the paper said.

The laws it referred to give police sweeping new powers and change electoral regulations governing voter registration.

But it is the media bill that has come in for the most intense criticism.

Andrew Moyse of the Media Monitoring Project, which tracks media coverage in Zimbabwe, said the media bill was a sign that the country was "becoming one of the most repressive societies on the continent."

The law makes "being a journalist impossible," he was quoted as saying.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Africa
Fury at Zimbabwe media curbs
08 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's controversial bills
30 Jan 02 | Africa
Suspension 'not the answer'
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