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