THIS week we have witnessed the arrest and detention of five ANZ directors, four here in Harare and one in Bulawayo.
The Bulawayo-based director, former High Court judge Washington Sansole, was arrested on Sunday and only released on Monday afternoon after his lawyers obtained a court order from Justice George Chiweshe.
Those in Harare turned themselves in on Monday and were released on bail at the Harare Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
Journalists working at the Daily News on Sunday were picked up on Saturday afternoon and warned against producing the Sunday edition. This followed publication of an edition on Saturday headlined “We’re back”.
The return was short-lived. The pattern of arrests and detentions is clearly designed to prevent any further appearance by the newspaper, at least until it has been issued with a licence. That is a measure of the threat it poses to the regime.
The state media, no doubt inspired by ministers, has been shrill in asserting that the Daily News is in breach of an Administrative Court ruling last Friday which instructed that the Media and Information Commission should grant ANZ a certificate of registration on or before November 30. The implication is that it cannot publish before that licence is issued.
That is a moot point. The court also ruled that the Media and Information Commission was improperly constituted. It ordered the Minister of Information to reconstitute it in accordance with provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That requires him to consult with media organisations, not just ZUJ president Mathew Takaona who most certainly cannot speak for journalists in the independent media sector. As it is, the commission’s chair Tafataona Mahoso stands accused of bias in the administration of his statutory duties.
It must therefore be asked why, if the refusal to register the Daily News was unsound in law, it cannot resume publication while its application for registration is considered? At no stage has a court ruled that the newspaper cannot publish. The police have taken it upon themselves to prevent it doing so, thus providing the obvious conclusion that the paper has been closed by the government acting on a questionable legal presumption.
The government, for reasons to do with regional politics, has furiously objected to the accusation that it has closed the paper. It points out that the Supreme Court ordered that the Daily News must first obtain a licence before it approaches the court on the matter of its constitutional challenge to the legitimacy of Aippa.
That ruling, we have since learnt from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and other legal luminaries, was inconsistent with British and Zimbabwean legal precedent that explicitly permits such an approach. The Chief Justice himself in December 2001 said the Bickle precedent of not excluding applicants from approaching the courts was “the modern rule”. He was responding to a claim by the CFU that the government had “dirty hands”.
Whatever the case, there is no prohibition except the government’s on publication. The government has made an interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling that suits itself and the police have acted accordingly.
But nevertheless, the Administrative Court ruling strikes an important blow for press freedom while repudiating the pretensions of the Media Commission. At this paper we have consistently argued that Aippa is bad law. Not only is it almost certainly unconstitutional, it is poorly framed. That in part explains hasty amendments designed to make it less vulnerable to a Supreme Court challenge. We shall see whether that does the trick!
In the meantime the Media Commission has been exposed as a dubious outfit, the instrument of a hostile regime. We await the next round with interest. One thing is already clear. The government is not winning this fight.
The long-awaited Code of Conduct for Zimbabwean Media Practitioners drawn up by Prof Geoff Feltoe in the UZ Faculty of Law at the invitation of Misa-Zimbabwe has now been circulated to editors and adopted by the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum. The next step is to get it adopted by all stakeholders.
It has been widely canvassed by Misa in an extensive outreach exercise that covered ZUJ branches across the country, the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe, the National Association of Freelance Journalists, and the Federation of African Media Women-Zimbabwe.
It is an unremarkable document in that it raises nothing that is new or objectionable in laying down professional guidelines for those of us working in the media. What is remarkable is that it has taken us so long to get this project off the ground. Media rivalry – a natural instinct – is partly to blame.
And getting editors together in the same room at the same time on the same day is a mission!
But I sincerely hope my colleagues in all sectors of the media will join us in putting in place a system of voluntary monitoring that offers the public some redress when they have complaints about our coverage. This is standard procedure now in most Commonwealth countries and I hope we can put aside our differences to make it work. I will keep readers informed of progress in this regard.