THE Zimbabwe Independent re-cently carried an editorial pointing out the injustices that arise from delays in the legal process. Justice delayed is justice denied, we argued, and that h
as been a worrying pattern in our legal system in recent years.
In this regard the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe raised some important issues last week that warrant further exposure here.
Since the Supreme Court refused to hear the Daily News’ constitutional challenge to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act until it registers with the Media and Information Commission, the MMPZ points out, the paper’s publishers, ANZ, have suffered a number of legal setbacks in their efforts to obtain redress from the country’s courts.
“Although the Administrative Court has ruled that the commission was improperly constituted and had been biased in refusing to register the paper, government’s appeal against this ruling has effectively prevented ANZ from getting its paper back onto the streets,” the MMPZ noted. “And the arrest of its journalists and directors, together with the occupation of its offices by the police, stand testimony to the determination of government to ensure that the gag on the paper remains.
“Despite the obviously urgent need to resolve the legal hiatus over this fundamental constitutional right to free expression, there is precious little evidence that the administrators of justice consider the matter of any great importance,” the MMPZ said.
It deplored what it called the evident lack of commitment from the judicial authorities which in effect deprives us as a nation of an important alternative source of information.
“It could be argued,” the MMPZ said, “that government is using the judicial process to frustrate the dispensation of justice. This is supported by the fact that the Supreme Court has yet to hear, or rule on at least three other constitutional challenges to Aippa, one of which has been outstanding for nearly a year. Such delays to the administration of justice, especially over such an important constitutional matter, are intolerable.”
The MMPZ made a further point: “More recently, other legal proceedings suggest that the authorities are seeking to dismantle the ANZ’s capacity to publish newspapers. On October 1, High Court judge, Justice Tendai Uchena, dismissed an ANZ application for the return of property irregularly seized by the police in their initial crackdown on the publishing company following the Supreme Court’s original decision in September. He gave no reasons for his ruling, and the Herald (October 2) merely quoted him as having said he would do so on “another day in the near future”.
According to ANZ legal advisor Gugulethu Moyo, the company has, as of October 31, written four times to the Registrar of the High Court seeking details of the judgment without any response.
“Thus, in effect the paper is being denied its constitutional right to lodge an appeal against the ruling, which was made more than four weeks ago.” (The written judgement is now out but the ANZ has had difficulty finding a copy!)
The MMPZ criticised the media for failing to reveal that the ANZ recently had six of its vehicles attached by the sheriff of the court following a default judgement against the company’s failure to service a $25-million debt. This is despite the fact that the company was unable to access its cheque books to pay the complainant due to the continued occupation of its offices by the police, the MMPZ said.
Having identified the obvious failure of Zimbabwe’s justice system to deliver justice to all, I must comment on the failure of executives at the Daily News last week to perform their duty in keeping the public informed of developments at the newspaper. As CEO Sam Nkomo, Daily News On Sunday editor Bill Saidi and Gugulethu Moyo arrived in London to attend a meeting organised by the Commonwealth Press Union, one of our reporters called the Daily News and asked to speak to Moyo about the visit. He was told she was not there. He asked if he could speak to any other senior manager and was connected to operations director Innocent Kurwa.
Asked if he could confirm that the three ANZ executives were on a mission to London, Kurwa denied any knowledge of such a mission and insisted all three were still in Zimbabwe. In fact, he said he had just been speaking to Nkomo in Harare.
Our reporter then called Nkomo who said he was in London. But he was reluctant to provide too many details of his mission. At the same time the CPU and other organisations were issuing detailed agendas of meetings they were hosting for the three ANZ executives, including a press conference that same afternoon (Thursday, November 6).
It would therefore seem that “less-than-candid” would be a fitting description for this behaviour by individuals who are in the business of news dissemination and transparency. Let’s hope they come to understand that as they were addressing a public meeting, the public at home had a legitimate interest in the proceedings. It was in their interest to be honest and forthcoming.
I hasten to add, we have never had any problems speaking to Gugu Moyo or Bill Saidi who are always prepared to keep us informed.
A parting shot on transparency. We still have in this town two prominent newspaper owners who are in denial about what they own. Do they think it is appropriate for them to be major shareholders in newspapers while refusing to acknowledge their shareholdings and continuing to play major roles in the economy at the head of other companies or corporations?
If either of them would like to call me about this matter, I can assure them it will remain between the two of us – and our readers.