By Geoff Nyarota
IF the ongoing Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe versus Media and Information Commission (MIC) battle were a normal court case, the Daily News would have long been back in circulation.
In the wake of the MIC’s rejection recently of the ANZ’s application for a licence, lawyers for the publishing company shunted the case back to the Administrative Court, where they scored a victory against the government in 2004. The MIC neutralised that earlier success by appealing to the Supreme Court.
But even before the lawyers acting on behalf of the ANZ had filed the latest notice of appeal at the Administrative Court, Sam Sipepa Nkomo, the publishing company’s chief executive, sounded pessimistic.
“I assume that when the Administrative Court grants us relief the MIC will appeal to the Supreme Court to forestall our attempts to get a licence,” he told a press conference in Harare.
Nkomo’s reservations reveal a tacit admission that the ANZ may not be contesting a legal case after all.
In an article published hot on the heels of Nkomo’s press conference, former Information minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo, the man who painstakingly charted the downfall of the Daily News, said the reasons cited by the MIC for its refusal to register the paper in the latest determination were scandalous.
“They have no legal basis whatsoever,” Moyo said. “The contraventions alleged by the MIC are factually and legally simply not there. The MIC had no option but to register the ANZ as a matter of law.”
Moyo has embarked on a new campaign to redeem his reputation since his year-end’s fall-out with President Mugabe, the boss he served so sycophantically for five years.
If Moyo, the architect of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) under whose auspices the Daily News was banned, says his creation, the MIC, is guilty of abuse of the law, why then does the Daily News remain unlicensed?
In a month’s time, the Daily News will have been off the streets for two years. If the paper’s publishers were engaged in a genuine legal wrangle against government, their lawyers have repeatedly won that case.
The Daily News remains unlicensed today because a political decision was made to demolish the paper ahead of the 2000 parliamentary election.
When management decided, on a matter of principle, not to register the paper with the MIC in 2003, they knew their decision was a calculated gamble in the prevailing politically polarised situation.
“The Daily News has become a threat to our national security and it must be silenced,” Moyo vowed angrily on television in January 2001.
Two days later, the paper’s printing press was reduced to a heap of scrap metal after saboteurs exploded four powerful bombs in the printing factory.
A large contingent of the ruling party’s war veterans association, equally angry, had staged a rowdy demonstration in front of the Daily News offices in downtown Harare a day before Moyo’s ominous outburst.
Nine months before the factory explosion, a hand-grenade was launched at the ground floor of the newspaper’s offices.
The only person ever arrested in connection with either attack was a Johannesburg-based Associated Press photographer who, true to his calling, was the first on the scene of a news event. In the case of the factory bombing, the police were given the registration details of the vehicle used by the saboteurs.
Their findings were never made public.
The bomb attacks were episodes in an arduous crusade to silence an independent newspaper, perceived to be a voice of the opposition at a time when the popularity of the Mugabe administration was on the decline.
The first phase of the campaign had targeted journalists working on the Daily News and other independent newspapers. They were harassed, arrested and tortured on a number of occasions. Death threats were issued.
When the Daily News persevered, totally undaunted, the second phase of the campaign was launched – seeking a total destruction of the paper’s premises. That the paper was back on the streets a day after its printing press was wrecked was a humiliation for the paper’s detractors.
Then Moyo had a brainwave. Legislation would bring the Daily News to its knees. Aippa had a tempestuous passage through parliament. Some ruling party backbenchers opposed it vehemently. The target of Aippa was the Daily News.
When Nkomo announced he was challenging this draconian law through refusal to register the paper, bureaucrats in the Ministry of Information rubbed their hands in glee.
The Daily News has since been reduced to the status of an occasional newspaper headline. Meanwhile, Zimbabweans have, once more, reverted to total dependence on Zanu PF mouthpieces – the Herald and Chronicle.
The majority of those men and women who suffered and sacrificed so much to launch and keep the paper on the streets, now wallow in misery and penury, some in distant parts of the diaspora, far away from even the nearest newsroom.
“I believe that all this could have been avoided had Nkomo agreed to join (then Financial Gazette proprietor Elias) Rusike and myself in our decision to register our newspapers and then launch a constitutional challenge against this Act,” Trevor Ncube, publisher of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard, said of the ban of the Daily News.
Ncube and Rusike registered their titles. Now the three papers have taken up the cudgels on behalf of the stricken Daily News.
“Our position is that we will go ahead and register but there are some objectionable sections in the Act that we feel need to be looked at,” is what Nkomo was quoted as saying by the Financial Gazette back in 2002. He has never publicly explained the subsequent shift in position.
“I cannot say I understand the reasons for the decision not to register the Daily News but am convinced it was most unfortunate,” Ncube went on to say.
“The Daily News has basically given the government a ‘legitimate reason’ to shut the paper down. The decision not to register when it was obvious that the government hated the Daily News with a passion and wanted to close down the newspaper was tactless and played right into the hands of Moyo and (MIC chairman, Tafataona) Mahoso.”
The role played by Nkomo in this fiasco needs to be scrutinised. In October 2002 I received a telephone call from Farayi Makotsi, editor of the Eastern Star in Mutare.
He wanted me to confirm that we were closing his paper down. Thinking he was joking, I asked where he got such fanciful ideas from.
“Well, Mr Nkomo is here and wants to make the announcement to staff,” Makotsi responded despondently. That is how the editor-in-chief of the ANZ got to know that one of his papers was closing down.
A few weeks later, the Daily News itself was off the streets. Staff went on strike after Nkomo refused to honour a written undertaking made by the company in July 2002 to award a salary increase in January 2003.
In the absence of Nkomo, who departed early for the Christmas holiday leaving the workers out on the streets, I intervened to rescue the paper for which, as editor-in-chief, I was legally responsible. When the Daily News hit the streets again after an absence of nine days its banner headline was, “Nyarota fired”.
Nkomo suspended me after I rescued the paper. I was forced to resign. He announced on radio that he had fired me.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation gleefully accused me of siding with staff. To date I have to receive the letter of dismissal.
The Tribune, now also banned, celebrated my pending departure a full two weeks before I committed the crime for which I was allegedly dismissed.
Nkomo obviously considered a hearing to be a luxury newspaper editors were not entitled to.
“Board members are, alas, culpable as we should not have allowed this travesty of justice and this undermining of our moral and statutory obligations,” board member Judith Todd lamented in a memo addressed a week after my departure to Professor Norman Nyazema, chairman of Strive Masiyiwa’s Independent Media Group, then majority shareholder in the ANZ.
“I do not understand how Sam Nkomo has been able to accrue and wield such power, such destructive power, as it turns out, without the knowledge let alone consent, of the board. That false headline ‘Nyarota fired’ in The Daily News with which our year began has been widely interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as being simply a greetings telegram to Jonathan Moyo.”
Voicing similar concerns 10 days after the closure of the Daily News in September 2003 for publishing without an MIC licence, board member Stuart Mattinson said: “I am most concerned that we appear to have been caught unawares and our response has not been fully considered. Indeed, it seems that we have left our executive team to decide on strategy, determine a legal position and tactics and at the same time deal with those who would like to see us permanently closed.”
The Daily News has not been seen since Mattinson spoke with such uncanny prescience on what was so clearly a case of political manoeuvring right from the beginning.
* Geoff Nyarota is former editor-in-chief of the banned Daily News.