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Date Posted: 15:39:33 02/07/04 Sat
Author: IRIN
Subject: Zimbabwe Supreme Court rejects appeal against media law

ZIMBABWE: Supreme Court rejects appeal against media law

JOHANNESBURG, 5 February (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed an appeal to scrap sections of a controversial media law, which journalists say gives too much power to authorities and infringes on their right to freedom of expression.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) noted in statement that while the Supreme Court conceded that the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, the court upheld sections of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which prevents reporters from working without accreditation.

"We are disappointed to say the least. We do not object to accreditation for administrative purposes, but are concerned that the minister [of information] and MIC [the government-appointed Media and Information Commission] are given quasi-judicial powers to decide who works as a journalist," MISA-Zimbabwe information officer, Rashweat Mukundu, told IRIN.

The act introduced a system for licensing the media and journalists through the MIC, whose board is appointed by the minister of state for information. The registration of media houses and journalists operating
in Zimbabwe is mandatory, but is also at the discretion of the commission and, ultimately, the minister.

Mukundu added that AIPPA had been selectively applied against the privately owned media.

"There is sufficient evidence that most journalists working for the private media have, at some point, experienced some form of harassment. We maintain that there are enough remedies in Zimbabwe's common law for those offended by the media, and that AIPPA should be repealed," Mukundu said.

President Robert Mugabe's government enacted the law in June 2002 amid severe criticism from local and international press groups. Media workers in Zimbabwe claim the law was introduced to help silence criticism of the ruling party.

In September 2003, the MIC banned the Daily News, the country's only private daily newspaper, by refusing to grant it a licence.

Mukunde noted that although "scores" of journalists had been arrested and detained under the law, the government had yet to win a single prosecution.

In a related development, Zimbabwe's Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku on Thursday postponed a ruling on an urgent government application to ban the Daily News, but did not announce a new date for a hearing, Agence France Presse reported.

"He (the judge) has reserved judgment. He did not grant an order at all," Daily News lawyer Mordecai Mahlangu told journalists.

The MIC made an urgent application two weeks ago to again stop the Daily News from publishing after it resumed operations on 22 January.

[ENDS]

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