Student journalists studying at Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA) recently expressed their discontent with the stringent media laws in Zimbabwe, which significantly impede access to information.
The students argued that these laws, particularly the Cyber and Data Protection Act, create a challenging environment for the media industry to flourish.
The dissatisfaction was voiced during a workshop organized by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) at CCOSA, which aimed to address the restrictive media laws prevalent in the country.
One of the students, who preferred to remain anonymous, lamented the impact of the restrictive laws on their handling of information, highlighting the severity of penalties imposed by the new data protection law.
“Zimbabwe’s new data protection law imposes strict penalties for non-compliance and breaches by data handlers, which makes us hesitant to handle certain information, particularly information related to government officials,” the student explained.
The student further revealed that data controllers can be charged with offenses, facing fines, imprisonment, or both.
If found guilty of non-compliance, the student further said the courts can authorize the seizure and destruction of media or storage devices suspected of containing compromised data of individuals.
MISA Advocacy Officer, Marlvin Mkudu, echoed the same sentiments with the students, highlighting that the Cyber and Data Protection Act has the potential to restrict news gathering and hinder access to information.
According to MISA, the objective of the Act was to enhance data protection and instill confidence and trust in the secure use of information and communication technologies by data controllers, their representatives, and data subjects.
Additionally, the legislation also amended certain provisions within three other statutes: the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, and the Interception of Communications Act.
The Bill, initially named the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill, was gazetted in May 2020. It subsequently went through public hearings in July 2020.