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Supreme Court clips Jonathan Moyo’s wings

The Supreme Court clipped Information Minister Jonathan Moyo’s wings when it declared unconstitutional section 6 of the Broadcasting Services Act that gave the minister unfettered power to veto the granting of a license by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, as well as the requirement to have only one national radio and television station in addition to the public broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

The verdict was made following an application by Capitol Radio challenging the refusal by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to give it a licence to operate in the country.

The Supreme Court struck off Section 6 of the Act that made Information Minister Jonathan Moyo the sole licensing authority, saying, “This seriously undermined the independence of the regulatory authority”.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 03HARARE2104, MEDIA UPDATE; HARARE

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

03HARARE2104

2003-10-23 08:54

2011-08-30 01:44

UNCLASSIFIED

Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

230854Z Oct 03

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 002104

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPT FOR AF/PDPA FOR DALTON, MITCHELL AND SIMS

AF/S FOR RAYNOR

NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER

LONDON FOR GURNEY

PARIS FOR NEARY

NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PREL PHUM KPAO KMDR ZI

SUBJECT: MEDIA UPDATE; HARARE

 

 

1.   Begin summary: Two independent newspapers “The Daily

News” and “The Daily News on Sunday” remain shut as the

government of Zimbabwe makes sure that Zimbabweans are

bereft of voice and answerability. The government of

Zimbabwe recasts some sections of the controversial Access

to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) into a

lethal piece of legislation that is more convoluted,

treacherous and vindictive. The Administrative Court will

rule this week in a case in which the Associated Newspapers

of Zimbabwe (ANZ) is challenging the state-appointed Media

and Information Commission (MIC) for rejecting its

application for registration. Friends of “The Daily News”

help the newspaper to put together an online edition from

South Africa. The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe clips the

wings of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. Read on. End

summary.

 

2.   By closing the “Daily News” and the “Daily News on

Sunday” on September 12, 2003 the government of Zimbabwe

literally threw spanners into the works of many Zimbabweans

who are urgently campaigning for a better future, political

freedom and sanity. With bold editorials and meticulous

exposes, the two newspapers, especially “The Daily News,”

had become vibrant searchlights of responsibility and had

shone brilliantly for everyone to see and enable them to

have a handle on the good, the bad and the ugly events

happening in a jagged and ever-shifting society. Only

those with the capability to access the private and

international media, particularly VOA’s Studio 7 and Short

Wave Radio Africa, are able to obtain news reports closer

to reality on what is happening in this volatile southern

African nation.

 

3.   The ubiquitous state-run print and electronic media is

working day in and day out to keep the public in the dark

ofn the socioeconomic and political challenges facing the

country. For example, the public media downplayed a recent

nation-wide strike called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade

Unions (ZCTU) to show displeasure against the run-away

inflation, absence of rule of law, shortage of the local

currency, the inhibitive fuel and transport costs and the

continued violations of human rights, among other

grievances. Instead of giving an accurate account of the

arrests and police brutality against the demonstrators, the

government-controlled media carried vague reports about the

nationwide demonstrations and drenched the public with

soccer news.

 

4.   In the absence of “The Daily News” and “The Daily News

on Sunday,” Zimbabwe’s meltdown will never be fully

articulated. Although we still have three weekly

independent newspapers, it will remain a tall order for

this small but vibrant press to challenge the official

version of events put out in the ubiquitous government

print and electronic media.

 

5.   It’s not over until “The Daily News” is back on the

streets. Although the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe

(ANZ), publishers of the outlawed newspapers “The Daily

News” and “The Daily News on Sunday,” has lost a couple of

court challenges in the last few weeks against their

closure after a Supreme Court ruling that ANZ was operating

illegally, the group has not lost hope nor thrown in the

towel. Last week ANZ was at the Administrative Court where

they challenged the state-appointed Media and Information

Commission (MIC) for declining its application for

registration. The case was even heard, for the first time

in many moons, on Sunday when all concerned parties

presented their closing arguments. However, judgment was

deferred to either on Thursday or Friday this week, as

announced by Justice Michael Majuru soon after the court

heard closing submissions from the ANZ and MIC. Many media

critics and commentators are not comfortable with this

delay in handing down a verdict. They fear political

manipulation. “The ANZ has a strong case, but we are

losing because the judges are making political decisions at

the expense of handing down impartial judgments,” said Mr.

Bill Saidi, Editor, “The Daily News on Sunday.”

 

6.   Assisted by “Friends of The Daily News,” the paper has

re-launched its electronic edition from Johannesburg, South

Africa. The new home for the online edition is www.daily-

news.co.zw. “The move has been inspired by our unwavering

commitment to serve the millions of people who read the

`Daily News’ every day,” ANZ said in a statement to

announce the new Internet edition. Adding: “The government

would not be able to stop it from operating on the

information super-highway as it had no power to do so.”

All articles to be posted on the website will originate

from the newspaper’s journalists in Zimbabwe, a move that

could be made impossible by the government through the

Media and Information Commission. At the moment, all the

journalists working for the ANZ have not been accredited by

the MIC as required by law. The October 17 edition of the

government-controlled daily “The Herald” published a

damning article on page 2 in which the paper accused ANZ of

“resolving to once again break the law” by having its

journalists “who are not accredited with the MIC” to gather

and write news in the country for the online edition. The

newspaper also quoted Information Minister Jonathan Moyo as

saying: “We advise those people to think of their careers.

If they want to be outlaws, they should be prepared for the

legal consequences. . .We are double determined to insist

on the rule of law and the rule of law shall prevail come

rain or sunshine.”

 

7.   In a separate development, The Media and Information

Commission has ordered the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media

Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) to register under the

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act

(AIPPA). In a letter to MISA dated June 4, the MIC told

the media watchdog to urgently comply with the regulation.

MISA has since filed an application in the High Court

seeking a declaratory order that it is not a media

organization. No date has been set for the hearing of the

MISA challenge.

 

8.   Following the controversy surrounding the closure of

“The Daily News” and “The Daily News on Sunday” by the

government of Zimbabwe last month, the October 15 edition

of the government-controlled daily “The Herald” surprised

readers by publishing the full Supreme Court judgment that

led to the decision to close the newspaper. According to

the newspaper, the publication of the judgment was

“intended to clear distortions that have emerged in the

interpretation of the ruling.”

 

9.   Meanwhile, police have charged five ANZ directors and

45 journalists working for the ANZ for “illegally operating

a media business and working without accreditation or

working for an illegal media group,” respectively. All

signed warned and cautioned statements before being

released. However, police will proceed by way of summons.

According to press reports, police are now interested in

questioning the ANZ owner, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, for the

same offense.

 

10. In a notice in an extraordinary Government

Gazette – released suspiciously at the weekend –

Robert Mugabe is reported to have assented to the

newly recast Access to Information and Protection of

Privacy Act (AIIPA). The new Act has been heavily

criticized by MISA as “an oppressive piece of

legislation” that is “not compatible with democratic

moral values.” Legal and media experts have

characterized the amendments as “largely cosmetic

and fall short of addressing the concerns of

journalists practicing in Zimbabwe.” Analysts

interviewed by the independent weekly “Financial

Gazette” in the October 16 edition were disappointed

with the inconsequential facelift of the Act,

arguing that the amendments dwelt mainly on

replacing a few sections of the Act that had been

struck off by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

“It is my considered view that apart from changes to

Section 80, the amendments were so superficial as to

fail to change the character of AIPPA,” lawyer

Sternford Moyo of Scanlen and Holderness was quoted

as saying. Adding: “AIPPA remains objectionable and

inconsistent with what one expects in a democratic

society. Its character as an obstacle to free flow

of information, ideas and beliefs remains.” The

president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists,

Matthew Takaona, criticized the new Act saying, “The

law gives too much power to the MIC. It actually

silences journalists.”

 

11. Part of the amendments to AIPPA include the insertion

of a new section on the abuse of journalistic privilege

after the Supreme Court struck out section 80 of the Act

which mad it an offense for a journalist to publish

falsehoods as unconstitutional in May last year. Section

80 made it an offense to publish a falsehood but made no

reference to the intention of such publication. The new

section makes publication of falsehoods a criminal offense

only when there is a deliberate intention to publish a lie

or when the author of the falsehood is totally reckless

about whether the information is false or not. A new

section on abuse of freedom of expression states that a

person who makes use of a mass media service for the

purpose of abusing freedom of expression by publishing

falsehoods shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a

fine or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both such

fine and imprisonment.

 

12. The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe has clipped

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo’s wings. In a

well-received ruling passed last month, the Supreme

Court declared unconstitutional section 6 of the

Broadcasting Services Act that gave the minister

unfettered power to veto the granting of a license

by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, as well

as the requirement to have only one national radio

and television station in addition to the public

broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

This verdict was made following an application by

“Capitol Radio” challenging the refusal by the

Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to give it a

license to operate in the country. The Supreme

Court struck off Section 6 of the Act that made

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo the sole

licensing authority, saying, “This seriously

undermined the independence of the regulatory

authority.”

 

13. Comment: The closure of “The Daily News” and “The

Daily News on Sunday” has effectively destroyed one of the

pillars of democracy. Without reliable and balanced

sources of information about what is happening in

government and the society, Zimbabweans have been denied an

extremely important source of information, providing news

and analysis about what is happening inside their country,

and of the solutions to national problems. Instead, the

ubiquitous state-controlled print and electronic media is

failing to inform the nation fully and objectively.

Zimbabweans are fed a one-sided view, which does not give

the full story of events and issues. In commenting about

the closure of “The Daily News,” “The Post” newspaper in

neighboring Zambia aptly sums up this new entry in

Zimbabwe’s sorry record of media oppression by declaring:

“The Zimbabwe government has never shown much commitment to

the defense of a free, independent and robustly critical

press. It has never accepted the freedom of the press as

its inalienable right to be a critic and a monitor.”

 

SULLIVAN

(22 VIEWS)

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