Journalists Sue Government Over Accreditation

HARARE – Zimbabwean journalists have sued the government, including Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity's decision to accredit journalists wishing to cover the on-going COMESA Summit.\r\n

Tsvangirai is cited as the fourth respondent in matter in which freelance journalists Stanley Gama, Valentine Maponga, Stanley Kwenda and Jealous Mawarire want the court to bar Information Minister Webster Shamu and the Permanent Secretary George Charamba, from forcing them to get accreditation for the summit through the Media and Information Commission (MIC).

In the urgent chamber application (case number HC2355/2009) and filed on  2 June 2009 by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the journalists argue that the MIC and its structures, which is the basis used by the ministry to call for accreditation, ceased to exist on 11 January 2008 after amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in 2007.

The journalists also want the MIC to be barred from involving themselves in issues relating to the accreditation of journalists.

They also want a declaratory order allowing them to cover the COMESA Heads of State and Government summit without the need to produce an MIC accreditation card.

Gama argues in the founding affidavit the MIC chairperson Tafataona Mahoso and his staff have been assigned to unlawfully accredit journalists for the COMESA Summit in a clear disregard of the law.

"It is common cause that amended AIPPA which came into operation on 11 January 2008 repealed sections 38 and 39 of the Act (the provisions which established the MIC and set out its functions) and replaced the MIC with a body to be known as the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC)," said Gama.

He said the amended act effectively dissolved the MIC and the first ZMC was to be established and would have the powers to "receive, evaluate for accreditation and consider the application for the accreditation of journalists".

"The amended Act effectively sought to limit executive interference in the workings of the Commission by removing the power to make regulations from the Minister (Shamu) and putting it in the hands of the ZMC. As such the neither the first and second respondents (Shamu and Charamba respectively) had, nor have any powers in relation to accreditation of journalists," argues Gama.

He further argues that the minister could not purport to exercise regulatory power unless and until it was with written authorisation of such from the ZMC, as stipulated in 52 of AIPPA.

Gama also refers to Tsvangirai’s comments of 21 May 2009 that as a result of the amendments to AIPPA, the MIC ceased to exist.

"There is presently no legal obligation for foreign or local journalists, media houses or news agencies to apply for accreditation until the Media Commission is established and a new framework put in place," said Tsvangirai during a press conference last month.

However the ministry published notices in the Herald and The Sunday Mail instructing journalists to seek accredit for the COMESA summit.

Journalists with "valid MIC accreditation cards" and those from the COMESA region would not have to pay accreditation fees while those from outside will have to pay US$150.

"I believe the action of the 1st and 2nd respondent are not only unlawful but also infringe on my freedom of expression and my right to access and disseminate information without unlawful hindrance. Further the actions are infringing on my right to freely carry out my lawful profession and earn a living," said Gama praying that the matter should be heard on an urgent basis to enable him to cover the summit.