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Court declares sections of Broadcasting Act unconstitutional
Media Institute of Southern Africa - Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe)
September 30, 2003

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The Supreme Court, on 19 September, declared unconstitutional certain sections of the Broadcasting Services Act that gave the Minister of Information and Publicity power to license would-be broadcasters.

The Supreme Court struck down section 6 of the Act, which makes the minister the licensing authority. The Act reads: Subject to these regulations, the Minister shall be the licensing authority for the purpose of licensing any person to provide a broadcasting service or operate as a signal carrier in Zimbabwe.

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe which is also set in terms of the BSA can only recommend to the minister but has no power to license applicants. Supreme Court Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said that the Minister had been given too much power in deciding who can be given a license.

"I accordingly hold the view that section 6 of the Act is unconstitutional because it totally subordinates the regulatory authority to the minister in the process of granting broadcasting licenses," said Chidyausiku.

The court ruled that the section seriously undermined the authority and independence of the regulatory body. The Supreme Court also struck down the whole of section 9 of the BSA, which set restrictions in relation to issuing of licences. Section 9 read that:

(1) Only one licence shall be issued to provide a national broadcasting service in addition to the national broadcasting service provided by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation or any other public broadcaster established by law.
(2) Not more than two signal carrier licences shall be issued and
(3) a broadcasting licence and a signal carrier licence shall not be issued to the same applicant.

The ruling was made after Capital Radio, an aspiring private station that was closed down in 2000, applied to the Supreme Court to have sections of the law declared unconstitutional. The government has so far refused to grant the private station a licence. No private broadcasters are yet to be licensed since the BSA was passed in 2001.

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