Ministry in volte face over successful application by journalists

webster_shamuThe Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Webster Shamu, and his permanent secretary George Charamba are reportedly challenging a High Court interim judgment which declared the state-controlled Media and Information Commision (MIC) defunct and allowed four freelance journalists to cover the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa summit held

Ironically this comes hardly a day after the same Ministry issued a statement saying it would unconditionally and unreservedly abide by Justice Bharat Patels ruling on 5 May 2009.

However, in a dramatic volte-face, on 28 June 2009 The Sunday Mail reported that the Minister and his permanent secretary had on 24 June 2009 filed papers with the High Court arguing that the January 2008 amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) did not alter the MICs powers but merely changed the name of the regulatory body to the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).

Selby Hwacha who represented the journalists, on 29 June 2009 told MISA-Zimbabwe that he was not aware of this development as his office had not been served with the papers in question. Hwacha stressed that nothing had changed regarding the legal status of the MIC saying that the legal instruments were clear and that they should always guide ones interpretation on the position of the law.

He also expressed reservations as to whether the appeal would have any real substance saying that in his view the appeal was merely an attempt to save face by the ministry.

Meanwhile, according to the state-controlled weekly newspaper, the Minister is now arguing that the ZMC did not succeed the MIC this coming hard on the heels of its statement on 24 June 2009 where it stated that the ministry had no intention of defying the provisional High Court order granted in favour of freelance journalists Stanley Gama, Valentine Maponga, Stanly Kwenda and Jealousy Mawarire.

This followed High Court judge Justice Bharat Patels provisional order on 5 June 2009 in favour of the challenge on the legality of the defunct MIC lodged by the four journalists. In their urgent application the four journalists challenged the legality of accrediting with the defunct MIC to cover the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) Summit which was then underway in the resort town of Victoria Falls as had been announced by the Ministry.

In compliance with the said court order, we unreservedly and unconditionally retract and withdraw the contents of the said statement, reads part of the statement issued by the responsible Minister Webster Shamu and his permanent secretary George Charamba. We also wish to apologise for the delay in issuing this statement, which was in itself caused by a delay in receiving appropriate legal advice, said the statement.

In the present challenge the Minister now argues that the ZMC which is a creature of Constitutional Amendment 19 was different from the statutorily constituted MIC and that the Act which will determine the extent to which the present Commissions (ZMC) functions and powers is still to be enacted.


On 5 June 2009 Justice Patel granted the interim relief sought by the journalists and ordered that the Minister and his Permanent Secretary George issue a retraction on statements published on 22, 23 and 24 May 2009 relating to matters of accreditation of journalists and media houses by the MIC and that the applicants be allowed to cover the Summit without having to produce accreditation cards. The ministry, however, did not comply with the order until the issuance of its statement on 24 June 2009

Security agents barred the journalists from the summit venue on 7 June 2009 insisting that the journalists despite the production of the High Court order could not cover the event as they were not on the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicitys list of journalists accredited to cover the summit.

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