An act of vindictive pettiness

THE ANZ was once again this week denied an operating licence. That is to say the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday won’t be back on the streets for as long as it pleases those presuming to shape the future of this c

ountry. It also means Zimbabweans have been denied alternative media voices simply because those in power believe that only their views should be heard.

What we find distressing about the Media and Information Commission (MIC)’s ruling is its vindictive pettiness. The fact is the MIC, which reflects the attitude of government towards the private media, is intolerant of media diversity and freedom.

MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso has become an instrument of media tyranny used to close four newspapers — the two ANZ titles, the Tribune and the Weekly Times .

Mahoso’s latest determination in the ANZ case does not add value whatsoever to the September 11 2003 Supreme Court judgement which led to the closure of the media group. It simply regurgitates the Supreme Court rationale for the earlier decision to halt publication while ignoring the court’s instruction that the newspaper group should apply again for registration.

Mahoso’s verdict amounts to defiance of the Supreme Court ruling to re-consider an ANZ application for registration on its merits. The court ordered the ANZ to register before its constitutional challenge against Aippa could be heard.

The Mahoso-led commission ruled that the ANZ cannot resume operations because it contravened sections of Aippa by publishing the Daily News without a registration certificate and using unaccredited journalists. Mahoso decreed that this was “inexcusable”.

But the ANZ and its journalists had committed no offence to justify the closure of their newspapers. Up until the time of the closure of the papers, none of its workers had been convicted of any offence as a result of the said non-registration.

Much was made in the MIC’s verdict of the status of Chengetai Zvauya who had been convicted of criminal defamation. But his case was under appeal at the time and he was eventually acquitted. Why then was he not afforded a stay of judgement by the MIC in keeping with legal precedent?

This is the problem with selective application of a law created to pursue personal vendettas camouflaged as the public interest. Nothing could be as contemptible as the commission’s reasons for its verdict.

While the Supreme Court asked the ANZ to respond to issues raised in its questionable “dirty hands” ruling, it did not require the MIC to move the goal posts when dealing with the media group. When the court advised the ANZ to apply it must have been satisfied that once the ANZ met the criteria for registration, justice would prevail.

But according to Mahoso and his commission, the court was woefully mistaken. This week they sat as the supreme executioner to rule that the ANZ had not responded “to every alleged contravention in the 2003 determination” and decided they were not satisfied. Are these the new criteria for registration of all media houses, we ask?

What does Mahoso think he is doing by reducing himself to a tool of media repression while pretending to be a media analyst? What sort of a media trainer would produce students but shut down papers where they could work because he does not like the editorial content of those publications? This is abuse of power writ large.

What is also clear is that Aippa is being used by party ideologues to override the national interest.

MDC legislator Roy Bennett obtained no less than six court orders against the seizure of his Charleswood Estate. They were ignored. Two weeks ago a judge ruled that no development should take place on Whitecliff Farm because it was private property. Again that interim order was ignored by government.

We raise these examples to show how illegal actions that threaten property rights have been systematically ignored with disastrous consequences for investment, while petty laws designed to suppress the media are enforced with fundamentalist zeal by our “Council of Guardians”.

Who poses the greater threat: a journalist who is not accredited or a minister choosing which court orders will be enforced and which will not?

We are appalled by Mahoso’s widening discretionary powers about how media houses should be registered. It is evident from all this that the government does not believe its stable of dissembling papers can survive the cold wind of competition .

The truth is that no banning of newspapers will help Zimbabwe overcome the current political and economic crisis, nor its growing reputation as an international leper. If anything the government and its hired hands are doing everything possible to ensure we remain an “outpost of tyranny”.

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