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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 implications of failing to accredit
The implications of failing to accredit severely restrict – in fact make it almost impossible – for a journalist to practise his profession in this country.

It is important to note that these rights cannot be exercised by an unaccredited journalist in Zimbabwe. Journalists reporting and exercising their profession from outside the country are not affected.

The rights under section 78 of the Act
These have been outlined previously. The most important ones that are unable to be exercised are as follows. A journalist cannot enquire, gather, receive and disseminate information, which effectively restricts him from carrying out his work. He cannot visit public bodies to carry out his duties as a journalist. This means he cannot investigate any stories pertaining to public institutions. He cannot access documents and materials as prescribed in the Act, although any other individual is entitled to such information under the Act. He cannot make audio or video recordings, take photographs or film. This directly affects those in the radio, film and video business.

One can see the implications of this by using a hypothetical example. Lloyd Mudiwa, as an unaccredited Daily News journalist, cannot access any information outlined in the Act. Lloyd Mudiwa, as an ordinary Zimbabwean citizen, can approach a public institution and obtain any information he desires unless it is protected in terms of the Act.

The effect of non-accreditation is therefore discriminatory against a section of the public, being unaccredited journalists. It is submitted that this infringes upon an individual’s right under the Constitution to protection from discrimination. Section 23(1) of the Constitution states that, "No law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect" and "No person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of a written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority". A journalist would have to show that as a result of his creed (being his set of principles or opinions)1, and as a professional exercising his right of freedom of expression to inform the public, he is forced to seek accreditation and to subject himself to the monitoring and restriction of his work, whereas any member of the public seeking the same information for himself is allowed to do so freely. Thus, he is being discriminated against. If he is able to satisfy the court that as a result of such beliefs and opinions he is being subjected to a restriction or a disability to which other persons are not subjected, he could succeed in having section 79 struck out as unconstitutional.

Section 79(6)
An unaccredited journalist cannot work for a news agency operating in Zimbabwe, whether or not the offices and operations are located in Zimbabwe in respect of any of its local operations. Once again, the journalist is being discriminated against as compared to an accredited journalist working for the same news agency. Each could write an identical story and yet the unaccredited journalist will not be able to see his story published, or be paid for his efforts.

Section 80
This is being repealed and substituted by section 20 of the Amendment Bill. Under this section a journalist who is not accredited is open to criminal charges, including an imprisonment term of up to two years.

Section 82
An unaccredited journalist is not entitled to have his name on the roll of journalists or be issued with a certificate of accreditation.

Section 83(1)
An unaccredited journalist cannot practise as a journalist or be employed as such by a mass media service. Apart from the effect on the journalist, this also has serious implications on mass media services, as their certificate of registration can be suspended, withdrawn or refused if they are employing an unaccredited journalist. A mass media service operating without a valid certificate opens its owners or majority shareholders to the commission of a criminal offence in terms of section 72 and payment of a fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years, or both, as well as the forfeiture of its products, equipment or apparatus to the State.

Section 83(2)
Whilst a journalist’s name is deleted from the roll, or whilst he is suspended, he cannot practise directly or indirectly by himself or in partnership or association or be employed in any capacity as a journalistic professional except with the written consent of the Commission.


1Definition to be found in the Concise Oxford Dictionary

 

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