Welcoming a Harare high court decision that ordered the governmental Media and Information Commission (MIC) to reconsider an application by the independent Daily News for an operating licence, Reporters Without Borders today urged the MIC to comply with the order at once.
“This ruling revives hope of seeing the Daily News on the news stands again,” the press freedom organisation said. “The supreme court already issued a similar decision on 14 March 2005 without the MIC complying. As a matter of urgency, the MIC must conform to these court rulings and issue accreditation to the Daily News’ journalists at once.”
In its ruling yesterday, the high court set aside the MIC’s decision to deny a licence to Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the publisher of the Daily News and its sister Daily News on Sunday. The decision was issued in response to a complaint filed last July by ANZ’s lawyers pointing out that the MIC’s chairman had refused to recuse himself from the case although the supreme court had found him to be biased.
The high court judge in charge of the case, Rita Makarau, said the MIC’s refusal to approve the ANZ’s licence request was biased and that it should therefore reconsider the request.
Jonathan Maphenduka, the press representative on the MIC board until he resigned on 18 August, had submitted a statement to Judge Makarau in November claiming that the MIC originally agreed to issue the Daily News with a licence but changed its mind as a result of pressure from the government’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
A milestone in the drawn-out legal wrangle between the Daily News and the government was reached on 14 March 2005 when the supreme court quashed the MIC’s September 2003 ban on the newspaper, forcing the MIC to reconsider the ANZ’s request for a licence within 60 days. Although the deadline expired on 15 May, the MIC waited until 16 June to consider the ANZ’s request.
After two days of deliberations, the MIC’s chairman refused to make any statement, saying the newspapers would be notified when a decision had been made, without explaining what he meant. The MIC finally announced its refusal to give the ANZ a licence on 18 July, as a result of which the ANC immediately challenged the decision before the Harare high court.
The legal battle between the ANZ and the MIC has gone from court to court ever since the Daily News and its Sunday edition were banned in September 2003. In February 2004, the battle reached the supreme court, which took a year to issue a ruling. Because of enormous financial difficulties and its desire not to expose its journalists to the possibility of arrest, the Daily News decided to stop publishing pending a resolution of the dispute.