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The legal implications of accreditation or non-accreditation of journalists under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
prepared by Irene Petras on behalf of MISA-Zimbabwe Chapter
October 19, 2002

© reserved - Irene Petras October 2002

The Media and Information Commission
The Minister of Information and Publicity appoints the members after consultation with the President. Under the Fourth Schedule of the Act the Minister fixes the period of their appointment (1(1)). He fixes the terms and conditions according to which they are engaged (1(3)) and their remuneration and allowances (8). He can suspend or dismiss a member of the Board for "conduct that renders him unsuitable" (4(1) and (2)). What constitutes such conduct is left undefined and therefore discretionary, vague and open to abuse.

As for the membership of the Board, there is no safeguard to ensure that it is independent and representative of the profession. In terms of section 40(2) only three members out of a potential seven can be nominated by an association of journalists and media houses. In any event, clause 7 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill 9 of 2002 (hereinafter referred to as "the Amendment Bill") seeks to remove the need to have any input whatsoever from the journalistic profession in the selection of members. The Minister will now select all members. Therefore, a Board consisting of no media professionals, only government appointees, may regulate journalists, which therefore denies the profession the basic right to choose its own leaders, regulate its own affairs and enjoy professional independence.

Clause 8 of the Third Schedule also shows how politically partisan the Commission can be. It allows the Commission, with Ministerial approval, to enter into arrangements with government or any local or other authority in order to obtain rights, privileges and concessions from them. The protection of freedom of expression, and the freedom of the press in particular, is a means by which the State and its officials can be challenged and held accountable to the people for their actions, thus promoting democracy. If the Commissionís primary responsibility were to ensure the protection of journalists and the publicís right to freely receive information, why would it wish to enter into agreements with the government and obtain rights and privileges from it?

A look at the functions of the Commission under section 39 gives an idea of how it will exercise its duties. They are to ensure that Zimbabweans have effective control of mass media services. They act on comments (not proven evidence) from the public about the administration and performance of the mass media in order to monitor, investigate and resolve complaints against them, and to enforce undefined professional and ethical standards. They are empowered to investigate, adjudicate and enforce their decisions by any means, save for detention in custody.

The Amendment Bill seeks to repeal sections 56 and 58 to 61 and replace them with two new sections: 52A and 52B. Section 52A is entitled Power of Commission to issue orders. Section 52B in particular deals with determinations and enquiries by the Commission. It is given the power to decide whether or not the matter at hand involves a substantial dispute of fact or law, and decide all questions of fact and law which arise in the course of an inquiry. Thus usurping the function of the courts of this land.

All in all, this all-powerful Commission polices its members and treats them with suspicion Ė it does not seem to protect and fairly regulate them and their freedoms in any way.

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