WE have heard much talk recently of “clean hands” and “dirty hands”. One of our columnists, Tawanda Hondora, a legal practitioner in the civic sector, toda
y provides a useful view of the “clean hands” doctrine which was cited by the Supreme Court as grounds for refusing to hear Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe’s challenge to the constitutionality of Aippa.
In such cases, courts are expected to determine whether the law in question breaches constitutional freedoms before abusing the applicants for having the temerity to refuse to obey the law!
The applicants were accused of approaching the court with “dirty hands” – an accusation which, couched in the same language as that used by government officials, may discourage future applicants from testing their rights in court.
It will be recalled that the current chief justice, then a High Court judge, publicly rebuked his predecessor for inviting aggrieved parties to approach the courts for redress.
The closure of the Daily News is clearly part of a wider campaign to close down what’s left of democratic space. The Daily News has had its constitutional right to freedom of expression abridged by a media commission that is of dubious legal provenance. Firstly, nobody asked for the law which established it. And secondly its members appear to be willing collaborators in silencing critical voices.
None of them has been appointed with the consent of the media itself, despite a provision for this in the original legislation. They represent nobody except the minister who appointed them. We hope they understand that.
If anybody has dirty hands it is those that are currently, wittingly and unwittingly, advancing the state’s agenda to deprive Zimbabweans of their liberties. That includes the holders of public office who have accepted land obtained as a result of a programme that has been characterised by violence and lawlessness. How can such individuals be expected to fulfil their mandate to uphold justice when they are the beneficiaries of a regime that is corrupt and brutal; that uses militias to employ violence in preventing the opposition from registering as candidates in elections; and closes down newspapers because their exposure of its gross misrule has proved inconvenient?
We have a number of people today in public life who are unable to see more than a few feet ahead of them. They are moved by ambition, settling scores with their critics, and, in some cases, the prospect of loot.
Do they really think Zanu PF will retain power forever? That they will never be asked how they acquired their farms and other properties; or why they collaborated with a delinquent state in depriving Zimbabweans of their liberties when they had a manifest duty to defend those liberties?
I said last week Zimbabweans would be reluctant to return to the days when they had only one source of information. At least then we had editors in the so-called public sector that were mildly critical of the government and permitted the publication of the occasional dissenting view or embarrassing news report.
We don’t even have that now. Recent stories relating to Simon Muzenda’s health in the period leading up to his death last weekend, the number of people resettled on farms, the prospects of economic recovery, and the support this country is receiving abroad have been deliberately deceitful.
It is galling to think that a media commission appointed supposedly to uphold ethics in the media has studiously ignored these examples of dishonest and unethical reporting and instead focused its attention exclusively on closing down an independent paper for refusing to register with it.
The head of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Brian Raftopoulos, has said the civic group would discuss how to go forward from here, with one possibility being the boycott of the state-run Herald.
“If you are in a situation where your so-called government prevents you having the right to seek alternative sources of information,” Raftopoulos was quoted as saying, “then we have the right to call for the boycott of the existing monopoly of information sources.”
The coalition said the banning of the Daily News “deprives large numbers of Zimbabweans of a daily source of information and an alternative to the virulent propaganda disseminated by the state-controlled media.
“There is no doubt that the primary objective of the Mugabe regime in banning the Daily News is to ensure that Zimbabweans, and indeed the international community, do not receive information about the regime’s continued abuse of power, repression, violence and grave abuse of human rights,” Raftopoulos said.
That is exactly what the regime is trying to do. Those of us in what remains of the free media must do everything we can to ensure the flame of press freedom is kept alight. We have a lengthening list of countries and organisations on our side. The Mugabe regime is losing support – locally and internationally – by the day and has become an embarrassment to its few remaining friends.
The best way we can fulfil our obligation to the public is by declining to be intimidated by a rogue regime so evidently on its last legs and continue “telling it like it is” – a promise we made to our readers when we opened in 1996 and which we have no intention of abandoning.