Journalists win landmark case against government

Four Harare based journalists on Friday won an historic court case against the government after they challenged the legal status of the Media and Information Commission (MIC).

The four freelance journalists, Stanley Gama, Stanley Kwenda, Jealous Mawarire and Valentine Maponga, were arguing that in terms of AIPPA, as amended in January 2008, the MIC led by Tafataona Mahoso no longer existed.

The Information Ministry last week instructed that all journalists wishing to cover the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) summit set to start on Sunday in Victoria Falls, should be accredited with the MIC.

But High court Judge Bharat Patel ruled that the MIC was now a defunct body which no longer existed and as such no journalist in the country should register with them.

Justice Patel also read government the riot act when he ruled that any body or institution seen trying to register journalists in Zimbabwe will be interdicted. Information Minister Webster Shamu, permanent secretary in the ministry George Charamba and Tafataona Mahoso were the first, second and third respondents in the matter.

The Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was cited as the fourth respondent in his official capacity as the person responsible for the executive arm of the inclusive government and in charge of ensuring the proper implementation of both the law and policy.

Thabani Moyo, the Media Institute advocacy officer for Zimbabwe told us the Ministry of Information was also ordered to retract its statement on 22nd May that journalists in the country were still liable for accreditation to work in Zimbabwe.

‘Justice Patel ruled that if the four journalists wished to cover the COMESA summit in Victoria Falls they should seek accreditation from the COMESA secretariat and not from the Ministry of Information,’ Moyo said.

‘It’s a short term victory because there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of seeing all draconian media laws repealed,’ Moyo added.

A jubilant Gama, who is also the chairman of the journalist’s Quill club in Harare, told us the ruling signalled the dismantling of the pillars of media repression in Zimbabwe.

‘This is a victory for media freedom in Zimbabwe. Journalists have been oppressed for a long time now and this ruling means we can freely operate without intimidation from the ministry, the minister, his permanent secretary or anyone else,’ Gama said.

In past cases the courts have often ruled in favour of media freedom, but these rulings have always been ignored by Mugabe and ZANU PF. It will be interesting to see if the situation is different this time, because of the unity government.