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  • High court declares MIC defunct
    June 05, 2009

    High court judge, Justice Bharat Patel on 5 June 2009 granted the application by four freelance journalists, Stanley Gama, Stanley Kwenda, Jealous Mawarire and Valentine Maponga challenging the legal status of the Media and Information Commission (MIC).

    The four journalists were represented by prominent media lawyer Selby Hwacha, who contended that the MIC had been disbanded by operation of the law after the promulgation of Act No. 20 on 11 January 2008 which amended Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) creating the Zimbabwe Media Commission to replace MIC. The ZMC was later consolidated by constitutional Amendment 19 which made it a constitutional body.

    Hwacha further argued that the effect of Act No. 20 was to remove the obligation compelling journalists to be accredited, such that they could actually practice journalism without accreditation although they would not be able to enjoy journalistic privileges as set out in section 79 of AIPPA. He further made submissions that the COMESA Summit was a regional and not a national event which was not covered by the requirement obliging accreditation.

    However, Virginia Mabhiza representing the Minister of Information and Publicity Webster Shamu, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry George Charamba and the Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai raised a preliminary objection that the prime minister had been improperly joined to the proceedings as he had no direct or substantive interest in the matter, a point which Hwacha disputed and the judge sustained his objection noting that the prime minister had a substantive interest given his official role as the head of government in charge of implementing public policy.

    The counsel for the respondents made submission in defence of the continued operation of the MIC on the basis of necessity, citing the case of Madzimbamuto V Ladnerburke as a legal precedent to that effect. However the judge refused this argument noting that this had pertained to the administration of an entire nation. On the contrary, the present case related to a small administrative gap in the law which could not warrant such a justification.

    In her attempt to strengthen her case, Mabhiza argued the journalists had already been accredited as of late February 2009, hence there was no need for them to seek court intervention since they were entitled to attend the COMESA summit. However, the judge, argued the 'accreditation' was invalid since the MIC had been rendered defunct by the 11 January 2008 amendments to AIPPA.

    Similar arguments were also echoed by Mercy Chizodza who was representing the third respondent Dr. Tafataona Mahoso.

    Upon hearing submissions from both parties the judge proposed that the parties try and reach a judgement by consent. However the process suffered a still birth after the parties failed to agree on the settlement terms. Justice Patel proceeded by making a ruling on the merits of submissions.

    In his final ruling Patel held that the applicants be granted interim relief sought and ordered that Charamba and Shamu make a retraction of the statements published on 22, 23 and 24 May relating to matters of accreditation of journalists and media houses by the MIC and that the applicants be allowed to cover the COMESA Summit without any need to produce accreditation cards.

    Patel further ruled that the MIC or any persons purporting to act on its behalf were interdicted from carrying out any duties related to accreditation or any issues regarding to the practice of journalism. As a final point he also stated that the order would stand notwithstanding the noting of any appeal.

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