Reporters Without Borders today called on the Zimbabwean authorities to recognise their inability to maintain a ban on The Daily News independent newspaper and its weekly supplement The Daily News on Sunday and to grant them a licence to resume publishing.
“Zimbabwe’s system of repression is beginning to crumble,” the press freedom organisation said. “We have the details of an unambiguous Harare high court ruling that totally discredits the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and its biased policies. When forced against the wall, the government violated its own draconian press law. To end to an ordeal that has lasted too long, it should recognise its defeat in the battle with The Daily News’ owners and allow it to reappear.”
Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of the 8 February ruling in which high court judge Rita Makarau said the commission’s decision to reject a licence application by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the publisher of The Daily News, was “rendered void by the participation of the [commission’s] chairperson in its making after he had been found to be biased against the applicant.”
Judge Makarau also ruled that “there is merit in the submission of the applicant” to the high court “that the commission as presently constituted is now disabled from validly considering the applicant’s application as their decision will be tainted by bias of the chairperson.”
The MIC recognized after the ruling that it could no longer consider the ANZ’s licence application. But no other government authority issued a decision within the 30-day deadline that followed the high court ruling, which expired on 10 March. This means the government is now in breach of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) for the first time since its adoption in 2002.
As a result, the ANZ today brought an action before the high court against information and publicity minister Tichaona Jokonya, to force the government to respond to its application.
The drawn-out legal wrangle between the ANZ and the MIC has gone from court to court ever since The Daily News and its Sunday edition were first banned by the MIC in September 2003. In February 2004, the battle reached the supreme court, which took more than a year to issue a decision.
The supreme court finally issued its ruling on 14 March 2005, quashing the MIC’s ban on the newspapers and forcing it to reconsider the ANZ’s request for a licence within 60 days. Although this deadline expired on 15 May, the MIC waited until 16 June to consider the ANZ’s request.
After two days of deliberations, on 16 and 17 June, MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso refused to make any statement aside from saying the newspapers would be notified when a decision had been made. He did not explain what that 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 MIC’s decision was subsequently criticised by a member of the MIC board after he had resigned. The former board member said the chairperson was pressured into refusing the licence by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
The High Court ruling (fac-simile)