Zimbabwean court: News’ license must be reconsidered

New York, February 9, 2006—Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) must reconsider its July 2005 decision to deny registration to the banned Daily News and its sister paper, the Daily News on Sunday. The decision raises the possibility that the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the papers’ parent company, could finally obtain a license to publish after being silenced more than two years ago.

Justice Rita Makarau ruled that the license denial was tainted by the perception of bias on the part of MIC Chairman Tafataona Mahoso, according to news reports and ANZ Chief Executive Officer Sam Sipepa Nkomo. The Daily News had been the only independent daily in a country where the government has steadily increased repression of the press.

Zimbabwe’s highest court, the Supreme Court, had found in March 2005 that Mahoso “made utterances and remarks that were likely to raise reasonable apprehensions that [ANZ] would not receive a fair hearing,” Makarau noted in the new ruling. Based on that, she said, the MIC’s subsequent denial was “rendered void by the participation of the chairperson.”

The newspapers, contending that the MIC ignored the Supreme Court’s message, had asked the High Court in Zimbabwe to review the case. Makarau ruled that the MIC must reconsider ANZ’s application and assume all subsequent application costs, although the timetable was not immediately clear.

Makarau also found that ANZ has tried to rectify MIC’s earlier objections. The judge said the MIC should not renew those objections, which included the employment of unaccredited journalists, Nkomo said.

“If they don’t give us the license, I will not leave them alone. I will continue to fight,” Nkomo said. “A license is a right; it’s not a favor.”

Authorities shuttered the Daily News in September 2003 after the Supreme Court ruled that ANZ was operating illegally under Zimbabwe’s 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, known as AIPPA. The act makes it a criminal offense for media outlets and individual journalists to work without accreditation from the MIC.

“The government’s forced closure of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday has been shown to be unjust at every level of Zimbabwe’s justice system,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The newspapers must be allowed to reopen immediately and unconditionally.”