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Judgment on the Association of Independent Journalists case cause for dismay
Media Defence Fund (MDF) and the Media Lawyers Network (MLN)
February 05, 2004

The Media Defence Fund (MDF) and the Media Lawyers Network (MLN) are dismayed by the Supreme Court judgment upholding certain sections of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) as constitutional.

The Constitutional challenge brought by the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) against the Minister of State for Information and Publicity in the Office of the President and Cabinet as well as the Media and Information Commission (MIC) sought the nullification of sections 79, 80, 83 and 85 as unconstitutional. The case was heard on 21 November 2002 with judgment only being delivered on 6 February 2004, fifteen months after the matter was heard.

Although the Supreme Court noted that freedom of the press is covered in section 20 of the constitution, we express our disappointment that the court ruled that these sections are still constitutional. The MDF and MLN believe that these sections pose a serious threat to the operations of journalists and the media in Zimbabwe.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku concurred with justices Cheda, Ziyambi and Malaba and declared that Sections 79(1)(d) and (2), Sections 80, 83 and 85 to be constitutional. Section 79 deals with the issue of accreditation of journalists whilst section 83 outlaws the practice of journalism without accreditation. In his dissenting judgment Justice Wilson Sandura observed that the application for accreditation by a journalist is subject to approval by the Permanent Secretary and by the Minister of Information. This he said entails that accreditation is no longer an administrative matter only. We note that the powers accorded the MIC and the Minister amount to quasi-judicial powers. The MIC and the Minister can decide on whom to and not to accredit therefore, who can and cannot work as a journalist in Zimbabwe. We question why the Minister and his permanent secretary would want to approve an application to practice by a journalist. Such a process is no longer a mere formality as there is discretion on the part of the accrediting authorities to accredit or to refuse to accredit.

The MDF and MLN note with concern that this judgment casts a very dark day for press freedom in Zimbabwe. We are aware of journalists who have attempted to apply for accreditation without getting responses from the MIC.

The long-awaited judgment could be out but it leaves all those who fight for freedom of expression worse off as all doors to the practicing of journalism in an enabling society are closed. We reiterate that the sections upheld by the majority of the bench severely undermine the exercise of freedom of expression.

The whole Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was not promulgated in good faith. Its use has been against journalists working in the privately owned media. We still call upon the responsible authorities to repeal this Act so that once again Zimbabweans can freely exercise their right to freedom of expression.

Issued by the Media Defence Fund and the Media Lawyers Network

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