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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

Implications of accreditation
Once the Commission has accredited a journalist, he can work as such in Zimbabwe and exercise all the rights under section 78. Journalists can enquire, gather, receive and disseminate information. They can visit public bodies to investigate stories and interview individuals. They can access documents and materials prescribed under the Act. They can record audio or video footage and take photographs or film. They also have the right or ‘privilege’ to refuse to prepare reports and materials inconsistent with their convictions under their name, remove their name or prohibit the publication of a report prepared by them but distorted in the process of editorial preparation. They can also make reports under a pseudonym.

An accredited journalist’s name would appear on the roll of journalists and he would receive a certificate of accreditation. He would also be able to access all the information pertaining to public bodies in the manner prescribed by the Act, which would make his investigations and work in general easier.

In terms of section 85(1) an accredited journalist would be obliged to observe a code of conduct, which is enforceable by the Commission. This code of conduct is drafted by the Commission, in consultation with organisations it considers to be representative of the profession. It is not mandatory for the Commission to accept their input, and all other journalistic bodies and representative organisations not approached by the Commission have absolutely no say as to what constitutes acceptable conduct. This code of conduct has not yet been prepared, and therefore the journalist would be agreeing in advance to a document containing rights and duties of which he has no knowledge, and which could be contrary to his convictions.

In the ordinary law of contract, an agreement can be set aside on the basis that it is vague. To require a journalist to agree in advance to terms and conditions, which are not only vague, but also completely undefined, is contrary to the law. If there is no certainty about obligations to be created by the contract, then there can be no meeting of minds, and thus no agreement. Therefore it could be argued that a journalist should not be obliged to enter into an agreement of accreditation with the authorities, as the terms and conditions are uncertain. In this manner the obligation to accredit could be challenged and, if successful, set aside by the courts.

However the courts could hold that the journalist should seek accreditation and be bound to all terms and conditions save for that of adhering to a code of conduct. The Act would have to be amended and a new ‘agreement’ entered into with the journalist once the code has been formulated and approved by the Commission.

If the journalist is found, in the discretion of the Commission, to have breached the code of conduct, he is subject to any of the following threats:

deletion of his name from the roll; suspension for a specified period; imposition by the Commission of conditions in terms of which he can practise; payment of a penalty up to $50,000.00; cautioning by the Commission or prosecution by the Attorney General’s office on the recommendation of the Commission.

Before any of the above actions can be taken, though, the journalist is entitled to make representations to the Commission. If the Commission rules against him, he may take the matter on appeal to the Administrative Court. There is no appeal to the Minister. The Act is, however, silent on whether a further appeal lies to any higher court.

The journalist would also be subject to the provisions of section 80, dealing with abuse of journalistic privilege and open to criminal sanctions in the event that any of the provisions are contravened.

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