THE African Commission on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights has recommended that government should â€œdecriminaliseâ€ offences relating to the accreditation and the practice of journalism in Zimbabwe.
The commission ruled in favour of the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (Ijaz), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), and the
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) in a case challenging sections of the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) promulgated in 2002.
Government has however relaxed this section through Constitutional Amendments 18 and 19, which abolished the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and replaced it with a constitutional body, the Zimbabwe Media Commission.
The applicants lodged a complaint to the commission in 2005 challenging provisions of Aippa which state that â€œno journalist shall exercise the rights in Section 78 in Zimbabwe without being accredited by the Commission (MIC)â€.
Ijaz, ZLHR and Misa argued that the emphasis on the right to freedom of expression in ensuring democracy is such that regulation other than self-regulation, is undesirable in a democratic society.
They argued that Aippa was aimed at â€œcontrolling and even obstructingâ€ the work of journalists.
â€œIn view of the above reasoning, the African Commission recommends that the respondent state repeal Sections 79 and 80 of Aippa,â€ reads the ruling dated June 4.
Government, the African Commission adjudged, should â€œbring Aippa in line with Article 9 of the African Charter and other principles and international human rights instruments; and report on the implementation of these recommendations within six months of notification thereofâ€.
The commission also advised government to adopt legislation providing a framework for self-regulation.
The complainants submitted that the registration requirements and procedures were â€œunduly intrusive and burdensomeâ€ arguing that intrusion into an individualâ€™s private details militated against journalism.
â€œThey (Ijaz, Misa and ZLHL) argue that the accreditation forms have to be examined and approved by both the permanent secretary and the minister, thereby establishing control of journalists by central government,â€ the documents read.
The complainants also urged the African Commission to â€œdraw inspirationâ€ from legal precedent developed in other regional human rights systems.
The annual accreditation process, according to Ijaz, Misa and ZLHR had a â€œchilling effectâ€ on the journalistsâ€™ ability to freely practise their trade, adding that this could lead to self-censorship.
The state however argued that the complainants had failed to establish a violation of Article 9 of the Charter stating that it was misleading to suggest that the MIC is â€œsusceptible to political manipulation and controlâ€.
â€œIt is incorrect, the respondent state argues, to suggest that Section 80 of Aippa unreasonably restricts the right to freedom of expression and dissemination of information. According to the respondent state, Section 80 restricts not all falsehoods, but only those that are willfully published and that are likely to injure public interest,â€ read the documents.
BY BERNARD MPOFU