Reporters Without Borders today called on Zimbabwe’s government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) to "immediately" issue an operating licence to the company that publishes The Daily News and The Daily News of Sunday and to accredit all of its journalists, after the supreme court yesterday quashed the commission’s 2003 decision refusing to do this.
The press freedom organization hailed the court’s ruling on this point as "a victory" while deploring the judicial system’s slowness and the fact that the court refused to recognize the unconstitutionality of Zimbabwe’s press law.
"Above all, we want to salute the courage and tenacity of those in charge at the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the company that produces The Daily News and The Daily News of Sunday," it said.
"The MIC no longer has any reason to refuse to let these newspapers reappear after they have been gagged for two years," Reporters Without Borders continued. "What’s more, unless it wants to defy a ruling of Zimbabwe’s supreme court, the MIC must immediately issue accreditation to all of ANZ’s journalists, while the police must also immediately return all the confiscated equipment to The Daily News and its legitimate owners."
The prolonged legal battle between the independent Daily News and the Zimbabwean government appeared to reach a conclusion in Harare yesterday when the supreme court "set aside" the MIC’s September 2003 decision to refuse the newspaper an operating licence. At the same time the time the court upheld the draconian press law known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the constitutionality of which had been challenged by the ANZ and several international press freedom organizations.
ANZ chairman Samuel Sipepa Nkomo told Reporters Without Borders he was "disappointed" by the supreme court’s decision. "Justice delayed is justice denied," he said. "While we are disappointed that the supreme court has been unable to accept our challenge, our greater concern is that it took over two years for this ruling to be handed down".
He added nonetheless that, since the supreme court had recognized the ANZ’s right to publish The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday, the MIC had "no reason" to refuse to restore its licence and issue its journalists with press accreditation. He said the ANZ would decide "within two days" whether to let the MIC consider the original accreditation requests of submit new ones. The law allows the MIC 60 days to take a decision.
Under the AIPPA, which was adopted in 2002, news media and journalists are forced to register with the MIC or risk being sentenced to prison. In its arguments to the court, the ANZ said obligatory registration violated the freedom of expression that is guaranteed by Zimbabwe’s constitution and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
The Daily News and its Sunday edition, Zimbabwe’s two most widely read newspapers, were banned in September 2003, beginning a legal battle between ANZ and the MIC that went from court to court and reached the supreme court in February 2004. Facing enormous financial difficulties and to avoid exposing its journalists to arrest, The Daily News decided to stop publishing pending the supreme court’s decision.
Drained by the cost of fighting around 40 legal actions and prosecutions, the newspaper’s coffers are now empty. The ANZ stopped paying salaries in July 2004. Of The Daily News’ 167 employees, around 20 are still fighting alongside the editor and his personal staff. No rent has been paid on the newspaper’s offices, which have been surrendered to their owners. The office of what was once the country’s biggest newspaper is now just a room inside the ANZ’s headquarters.