- Today, the Zimbabwe Supreme court ruled that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) is constitutional. According to media watchdogs, this is "casting a dark shadow over the future" of the independent press in Zimbabwe.
In his ruling, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said that sections 79, 83 and 85 of the Act are constitutional. The sections provide for accreditation of journalists, outlaws practising journalism without accreditation and empower a government appointed body, the Media and Information Commission (MIC), to develop and enforce a code of conduct respectively.
The Court ruling however was not unanimous. Supreme Court judge Wilson Sandura today passed a dissenting judgement, arguing that these sections of the Act indeed are unconstitutional. The judge said that there are enough remedies in Zimbabwe common law for those offended by the media to seek recourse.
Mr Sandura added that the accreditation of journalist prescribed in the controversial media law goes beyond administrative purposes as it involves the approval of the Minister and his permanent secretary plus the payment of fees.
The Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) took the Commission and the Minister of Information to the Supreme Court in November 2002, seeking the nullification of these sections on the basis that they are unconstitutional and impinge of their rights to free expression. The case was heard on 21 November 2002 with judgment only being delivered on today, fifteen months after the matter was heard.
The ruling today caused dismay among Zimbabwean defenders of the free press. The Zimbabwean Media Defence Fund (MDF) today in a statement said it would "casts a very dark day for press freedom in Zimbabwe."
The journalists had noted that the powers accorded the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and the Information 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, said the MDF statement. "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."
Also the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) today reacted to the long awaited Supreme Court ruling, saying it will by "casting a dark shadow over the future of the independent media in Zimbabwe." The Insitute still insists "the sections in question pose a serious threat to the work of journalists and infringe on their rights to freedom of expression."
- The whole Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was not promulgated in good faith, MDF concluded its statement today. "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."
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