Nyemudzai Kakore Harare Bureau—
Parliament is set to introduce fines for journalists who deliberately misrepresent proceedings in the House, Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda has said. The journalists would be charged with contempt of Parliament. Addressing representatives from media organisations on Parliamentary reporting on Friday, Adv Mudenda said standing orders do not permit publication of malicious reports or misrepresentation of proceedings in Parliment.
He said although Parliament no longer jails journalists, it will make sure that the fines have “proper censure”. Adv Mudenda said there was need for objective Parliamentary reporting as failure to ensure this violates the rights of others.
“We no longer have the powers to commit those adjudged to be in contempt of Parliament to a prison sentence but Parliament still reserves the right to charge anyone suspected of being in contempt of Parliament,” he said.
“The new constitution took away from Parliament the power to impose a custodial sentence for contempt of Parliament.” Adv Mudenda said in the House of Representatives in Australia, lay persons were liable to fines as high as $5,000 while juristic persons risked a $35,000 fine.
He said it was a matter Parliament was looking into so as to learn best practices from other jurisdictions.
Adv Mudenda said Parliament had a sacrosanct duty to uphold its Standing Orders. He said media restrictions may be imposed in the interests of defence, public security or professional confidentiality. “Thus, Parliament, through its application of its rules, doesn’t seek to sneak in criminal defamation into statute books.
“Contempt of Parliament charges are a civil way of punishing capricious behaviour by media practitioners, and in any case, no person will be sent to prison for contempt, but a fine will suffice in the event that someone has been found guilty of contempt. The standing orders will have to guide us as to the level of fines.”