By Spiked Online Media Reporter
The Freedom of Information Act (FIA) came into law on the 11th of July 2020, its agenda being to facilitate the exercise of constitutional rights by citizens which include freedom of expression and freedom of media, and the right to access to information.
This law repeals and replaces the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which had been in operation since 2002.
Every person has the right to access information. That right can be exercised and enjoyed by any person in terms of Section 62 of the Constitution, without discrimination whether such a person is a citizen, permanent resident, or not a citizen of Zimbabwe.
In a vox pop interview with reporters and communities with regards to their understating of the FIA, several views came into play since some have the full understanding of the law while some are not even aware of it.
“I just know that the FIA empowers us as media practitioners such that we can make information requests to any public entity or even public commercial entity or holder of a statutory office such as parastatals like ZESA Holdings, Telone, Zimpapers, local authorities among others. What I know is that there are limitations in the law since we are not entitled to make information requests to private entities yet they are part of communities that are supposed to provide us with the news,” said Nyasha Mutena a reporter with the Voice Magazine.
She said in this digital age, information is no longer supplied as printed copies thereby making it easier to be corrupted or distorted. This has become a major driver of fake news.
“I urge my fellow journalists to be on guard against fake news. They have to know the origins of the information that they receive to avoid litigation. There is a need to verify sources and to avoid using any information supplied if in doubt. The Freedom of Information Act has partially liberated us from bondage because, in the age of AIPPA, it was very difficult to investigate and expose issues to do with some corrupt top officials because the law way playing an undercover role in protecting those who shield their lives in the name of the privacy act,” she said.
Sharon Moyo, a Freelance Journalist said the FIA is very important because it recognises all the 16 languages hence there is no discrimination.
“When an applicant is requesting information he or she can do so by way of writing and not orally and the information can be obtained in any language of their choice among the 16 recognised languages as provided the Constitution. Entities are expected to translate the information that they provide and the applicant can be asked to pay a reasonable fee for the translation. All is well for being language-sensitive but the reasonable amount that is supposed to be paid for translations can prove not to be reasonable especially for the poor and marginalised communities who are failing to put food on the table and some greedy parties may inflate the figures hence fuelling corruption practices,” she said.
According to the act, once an information request has been made, the information officer is expected to give feedback within 21 days. In circumstances where the information is necessary for the safeguarding of one’s life or liberty, the feedback should be given within 48 hours. The information officer can also request from the applicant an extension of time for a further 14 days if the amount of information requested is huge or if there are consultations to be made before availing information and such consultations cannot be done within 21 days.
However, members of the public are crying foul citing that the media is not doing justice in protecting some persons who prefer to remain anonymous.
“Confidential information shall remain confidential but we are very surprised that some journalists are not ethical at all as they tend to reveal confidential sources. They don’t protect victims of violence hence putting them at risk of any possible dangers. We have witnessed several incidences where journalists take pictures of people in public and private properties without making any official request only to wake up in the morning with your whole life in the media. This may affect one’s life and some end up losing their self-esteem,” said Tinotenda Shumba of Chitungwiza Suburb.
Comparing FIA with AIPPA, some journalists and members of the public said they are yet to know about the FIA while some say they are yet to ‘taste the difference’.