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African commission asks Zimbabwe to "decriminalise" offences of media accreditation

African commission asks Zimbabwe to "decriminalise" offences of media accreditation
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, centre, arrives to attend a closed session on the second day of the 13th African Union summit of heads of state and government in Sirte, Libya Thursday, July 2, 2009.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has recommended that the government should "decriminalise" offences relating to the accreditation and the practice of journalism in Zimbabwe, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has reported.

The commission ruled in favour of MISA-Zimbabwe, Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in a case challenging sections of the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) promulgated in 2002.

The genesis of the ACHPR case was the MISA-supported constitutional challenge lodged by IJAZ in 2002. The Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled AIPPA constitutional, resulting in MISA working with IJAZ and ZLHR to take up the case to the ACHPR in 2005. The complaint challenged provisions of AIPPA which state that "no journalist shall exercise the rights in Section 78 in Zimbabwe without being accredited by the Commission (MIC)".

MISA, IJAZ and ZLHR 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 "controlling and even obstructing" the work of journalists. "In view of the above reasoning, the African Commission recommends that the respondent state repeal Sections 79 and 80 of Aippa," read the ruling dated June 4.

The government, the African Commission adjudged, should "bring 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 thereof". The commission also advised government to adopt legislation providing a framework for self-regulation. The complainants submitted that the registration requirements and procedures were "unduly intrusive and burdensome" arguing that intrusion into an individual's private details militated against journalism.

"They (MISA, IJAZ and ZLHR) 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," the documents read.

The complainants also urged the African Commission to "draw inspiration" from legal precedent developed in other regional human rights systems. The annual accreditation process, according to MISA, IJAZ and ZLHR, had a "chilling effect" on the journalists' 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 "susceptible to political manipulation and control".

"It 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," read the documents.

This ruling will bolster calls for media reforms in Zimbabwe. The unity government in Zimbabwe has been talking of instituting media reforms and held a conference to discuss amendments to repressive media laws. Nothing has been heard of on the resolutions passed at this conference.

Date posted: July 3, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 469