Supreme Court upholds repressive media law in Daily News case

New York, March 14, 2005—
Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court today upheld a widely criticized law requiring all independent journalists and media organizations to register with a government commission, but ruled that the Media and Information Commission (MIC) must reconsider a 2003 decision to deny registration to the banned Daily News and its sister paper, the Daily News on Sunday.

The MIC will have 60 days to rule on the application, according to local sources.

Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), which owns the two independent papers, originally refused to register with the MIC, and instead mounted a constitutional challenge to the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which mandates registration. On September 11, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that ANZ was operating illegally because it was not registered, and authorities shuttered the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday the following day. ANZ subsequently applied for accreditation, but was turned down. Police continue to hold much of the company’s publishing equipment, according to the Daily News‘ website,

“CPJ is appalled at the long-term, government-enforced closure of Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “The Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday must be allowed to reopen immediately and unconditionally.”

The Supreme Court ruled in ANZ’s long-running lawsuit seeking to scrap several sections of AIPPA; today’s decision is the second time the court has upheld AIPPA’s constitutionality. In February 2004, the Supreme Court ruled against a suit brought by the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ), which argued that compulsory registration violated journalists’ constitutional right to free expression.

In January 2005, President Robert Mugabe signed into law an amendment to AIPPA that strengthened the legislation’s already harsh provisions, setting prison terms of up to two years for any journalist found working without accreditation from the MIC. Two other newspapers remain shuttered under AIPPA: the private weekly The Tribune, which was closed in June 2004, and the Weekly Times, which was shut down on February 25, 2005, after just eight weeks of publication.

“Zimbabwe’s draconian media legislation, together with its security forces’ constant harassment of local independent journalists, has made it one of worst places in the world for journalists,” Cooper said.