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Media law creates regulatory vacuum

Orirando Manwere

THE proposed statutory Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) which should accredit journalists following amendments to the Access to Information and Protectio

n of Privacy Act (Aippa) is yet to be constituted and journalists are still not accredited for 2008.

However, journalists who were registered by the defunct Media and Information Commission (MIC) in 2007 and those who applied for renewal and new accreditation before the amendments, are deemed to be accredited under the law, legal experts have said.

In separate interviews on the legal implications of the media regulatory vacuum created by the non-establishment of the ZMC after the enactment of amendments to Aippa on January 11 this year, lawyers said previously accredited journalists and those who submitted applications before January 11 were “operating legally”.

Although the amended Act makes provision for journalists to operate without statutory accreditation, they still need it to enjoy various journalistic privileges like access to state press conferences, functions and statutory bodies.

As the country prepares for the March elections, most journalists have expressed concern over possible denial of accreditation to cover the elections and harassment by police since the MIC-issued cards expired on December 31 last year.

Valid statutory press cards are also a prerequisite for special election accreditation by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Fulltime and freelance journalists nationwide are still to get 2008 accreditation cards.

However, legal expert Muchadeyi Masunda who is also the chairperson of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, Misa-Zimbabwe legal officer Wilbert Mandinde, and a veteran lawyer with Veritas Trust who asked not to be named, concurred that journalists would be deemed registered during this transitional period.

Under the amendments the MIC — to be renamed the ZMC — and new commissioners are to be appointed from nominations made by the Parliamentary Standing Rules and Orders Committee.

Masunda said although the amended Act did not provide for the extension of the validity of previous cards during the transitional period, journalists would be deemed legally licensed under the law.

“The responsible minister has an obligation to issue a statutory instrument to ensure continuity during the transitional period during which the MIC should be reconstituted as ZMC with new commissioners being appointed.

“There is a deeming provision at law to cater for such developments. We have had institutions being renamed and reconstituted in the past and the same should apply in this case,” said Masunda. “Of course the responsible minister is obliged to make any clarification but journalists holding 2007 cards and those who applied before the amendments, are deemed to be registered in terms of the law.”

Mandinde concurred but expressed concern over the possible harassment of journalists by “overzealous policemen”.

He said delays in setting up the ZMC had created “some kind of a regulatory vacuum” which could prejudice journalists.

Mandinde said journalists could be denied access to information at some places like the courts where they are expected to produce valid press cards.

“It is therefore imperative for the responsible minister to issue an instrument for the benefit of those in authority in various institutions to entertain journalists holding 2007 press cards. Legally, they can operate but it’s not everyone who understands the law,”said Mandinde.

In terms of the amended Act, the eight ZMC members should be appointed by the president from a list of 12 nominees submitted by the Parliamentary Standing Rules and Orders Committee.

However, parliament was adjourned to April 8 after the elections and is awaiting dissolution on March 28.

Parliamentary committees are no longer sitting as members are busy preparing for the elections.

Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said he would look into the matter once he was back in office after the ruling Zanu PF party primary elections.

“That should not be a problem. Everything is under control. However, I will respond to your questions fully when I return to my office next week,” said Ndlovu.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa could not respond to written questions faxed to his office because he was also busy with the primary elections.

“I am in the rural areas campaigning. Send your questions to my office and I will look at them on Monday,” said Chinamasa.

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