New York, February 5, 2004—Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court today upheld legislation that allows the government to decide who can be a journalist and criminalizes the practice of the profession by those who are not approved by the government.

“This is a heavy blow to press freedom in Zimbabwe and sends a chilling message to the country’s independent journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We strongly condemn this ruling.”

The decision was in response to the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe’s (IJAZ) constitutional challenge to sections of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This Act mandates the registration of all media and the accreditation of all journalists with the Media and Information Commission (MIC), whose board is appointed by the minister of communications in consultation with the president. The journalists’ association argued that the compulsory registration violated journalists’ constitutional right to freedom of expression.

IJAZ’s lawyer, Sternford Moyo, also argued against the requirement on the grounds that journalists were being forced to register with the commission before the MIC has drafted its code of conduct, according to the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa. Moyo said that journalists were, therefore, being forced to comply with a code whose contents are unknown.

“What the court is effectively saying is … that the practice of journalism without accreditation is a criminal offense,” Moyo told Agence France-Presse. Under the legislation, those who fail to register their media with the MIC and journalists who practice without accreditation face fines and up to two years’ imprisonment, local journalists said.

Daily News developments
In a related development, the Supreme Court today reserved judgment on an urgent application brought by the MIC against the independent Daily News. The newspaper resumed publication on January 22, after being closed for four months. The MIC had sought to prevent the paper from publishing pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case on the legal status of the Daily News. The case is due to be heard on February 18.

Meanwhile, the Daily News staff met this evening to decide whether to publish their Friday edition, Associated Press reported. Following today’s Supreme Court ruling, the newspaper fears it could be shuttered again and its journalists arrested if they continue publishing.

Although the Administrative Court ordered the MIC to register the Daily News in October, the commission has so far refused. The newspaper remains unregistered and its journalists are unaccredited.