Veritas Access to Information and Freedom of Expression Bill

VERITAS Draft

Access to information and Freedom of Expression bill, 2010

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Memorandum

This Bill will replace the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act with a new Act which will encourage transparency in the Government, will facilitate access to information held by the Government and other bodies, and will foster and encourage freedom of expression.  It will also abolish the crime of criminal defamation and will reduce the wide ambit of the crime of insulting the President.

In more detail, the individual Parts of the Bill provide as follows:

Part I

This Part deals with preliminary matters.

Clause 1 sets out the Bill’s short title.

Clause 2 will define terms that are used throughout the Bill;  in particular it should be noted that references to the “Commission” in the Bill refer to the Zimbabwe Media Commission established by the Constitution.  The Zimbabwe Media Commission, therefore, will be responsible for supervising compliance with this Bill.  It should also be noted that the term “document” is given a very wide meaning in the Bill, covering written and electronic documents, tape recordings and anything else on which sounds and images are recorded.

Clause 3 will make it clear that the State (i.e. the Government) will be bound by the Bill.

Clause 4 lays down principles by which the Bill must be interpreted by courts and administrators.  Its guiding principles are set out in subclause (1):  accountability on the part of the Government and public and private bodies, and extensive freedom of expression.  Subclause (2) lists further principles of interpretation:  freedom of expression cannot be exercised properly without ready access to information;  the right of privacy must be balanced against the need for robust political debate and scrutiny of people engaged in public life;  and free and independent news media are indispensable to democracy.

Clause 5 defines what are public and private bodies for the purposes of the Bill.  Broadly speaking, all departments and offices of Government, all parastatals and local authorities, and all public and Government-owned companies, will be public bodies.  All companies and other corporate bodies that carry on professions or businesses will be private bodies.  The Minister of Information will have power to declare additional public or private bodies, but any such declaration will have to be authorised by the House of Assembly.

Under clause 6, a public or private body will be regarded as holding information if it has the information itself, or if another person is keeping the information on its behalf.

The effect of clause 7 is that the Bill will override restrictions imposed by other legislation on the disclosure of information, but will not limit other enactments that require information to be disclosed.

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