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Society | Media

New setback for Zimbabwe's free media

afrol News, 21 July - A Zimbabwean government commission again has refused to license the banned independent 'Daily News', Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, shut down in September 2003. Also the independent weekly 'The Tribune' was refused to reopen after having been suspended for one year in June 2004, officially on "financial" grounds.

The government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) on Monday refused, once again, to license the banned 'Daily News' and its sister paper, the 'Daily News on Sunday', both of which had been shut down for violating Zimbabwe's draconian press laws, the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

According to the state-owned 'Herald' newspaper, the MIC rejected the newspapers' application on the grounds that their parent company, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), had violated AIPPA, which requires all private media and journalists to register with the commission - the same grounds used by the MIC to shutter the paper two years ago.

In its decision, the MIC accused ANZ of publishing an unregistered newspaper and of employing unaccredited journalists, the 'Herald' reported. However, when journalists working for the 'Daily News' have attempted to register in the past, they have been turned down because they were employed by an unregistered company, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Sam Sipepa Nkomo, chief executive of ANZ, said he was shocked by this decision. In an interview with CPJ, he said the refusal indicated that the MIC "has not considered the current application at all," despite its repeated requests for additional financial and other documentation. Mr Nkomo said that ANZ would challenge the commission's decision in court.

- The enforced closure of Zimbabwe's only independent daily and the harassment of its journalists is shameful, said Ann Cooper, Executive Director of CPJ. "The Daily News must be allowed to reopen immediately and unconditionally," she added. Also the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zimbabwe has condemned the MIC's ruling as yet another "onslaught against media freedom and freedom of expression" in Zimbabwe.

According to MISA-Zimbabwe, the MIC had gone "well beyond its mandate" when ruling against the 'Daily News'. Zimbabwe's Supreme Court in March this year had referred the issue of the registration of ANZ back to the MIC and ruled that the application was to be considered as a fresh issue. The Court had made a finding that the MIC earlier had erred in refusing to grant the ANZ an operating licence on the ground that the media house was operating illegally.

ANZ however does not plan to give up its fight to reappear in Zimbabwe. Addressing journalists in Harare, ANZ's Mr Nkomo said the company will appeal against the MIC decision. "We are left with no option except to seek relief from the courts because the Commission is using the Supreme Court judgment to stall the granting of a licence. I believe this is wrong and this should not be allowed ... the courts will this time hopefully make their positions on this issue very clear," said Mr Nkomo.

In a separate case, the MIC refused last week to allow the independent weekly 'The Tribune' to reopen, after suspending it for one year in June 2004 for allegedly violating AIPPA. The commission denied 'The Tribune' a license on financial grounds, stating that the newspaper had failed to show that it had enough capital to resume publication, according to MISA-Zimbabwe. The paper's publisher, Kindness Paradza, however says that the newspaper has sufficient financial backing.

MISA-Zimbabwe was of the strong view that the MIC should have taken into consideration that it closed the newspaper in June 2004. The publishing company was, therefore, no longer in a position to generate revenue for overhead costs, rentals, rates and salaries and wages for its workers including other responsibilities to its stakeholders. "That 'The Tribune' has no permanent offices at the moment is the making of the MIC and the same body cannot therefore refuse to grant a licence on such flimsy grounds," MISA said.

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