Dumisani Muleya/ Blessing Zulu
MEDIA organisations and civic groups have reacted strongly to the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling upholding the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which c
arries severe criminal sanctions against journalists working without being accredited by the government-appointed Media and Information Commission.
The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said the ruling would further narrow down the frontiers of press freedom and restrict independent journalists.
“This is a heavy blow to press freedom in Zimbabwe and sends a chilling message to the country’s independent journalists,” CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said.
University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the ruling was “patently wrong”.
“The judgement was patently wrong as a matter of law,” Madhuku said.
“Instead of defending freedom, the judges leaned on the side of oppression.”
The General Council of the Bar of South Africa said the judgement was a double blow to justice and press freedom.”This latest assault on freedom of expression in Zimbabwe is all the more disconcerting for it being perpetrated in a judgement written by the Chief Justice of that country,” the council said. “The judgement is not only a blow to freedom of expression, but also to the independence of the judiciary, and is to be doubly deprecated.”
The bar council urged civil rights groups within and outside Zimbabwe and all voluntary associations of lawyers to vigorously oppose the ruling by all reasonable means.
The South African National Editors Forum said the judgement not only contravened the freedom of expression principle in Zimbabwe’s constitution but also protocols on press freedom adopted by the Southern African Development Community and the African Union.
However, South African Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Monday said there was nothing wrong with Zimbabwe’s media laws.
“I don’t see how that (ruling) would in itself translate to control of the media, unless we could say how the government has refused a legal application,” she said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an alliance of civic groups, also slammed the judgement.
It said the problem with the legislation was not only that it was unconstitutional “but was being selectively applied against independent journalists”.
“The press law has created two media worlds in Zimbabwe,” it said. “One world is that of the independent media which are continuously arraigned before the courts on trumped-up charges and the other world of the public media that is yet to feel the bite of the same law.”