Daily News must be given a licence, orders court

A court in Zimbabwe said on Friday the country’s only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, which was shut down last month by the government, must be given a licence to operate.

”We order that the applicant be issued with a certificate of registration by the respondent [media commission],” Judge Michael Majuru said.

He ruled that the state-appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC) must by November 30 issue an operating licence to The Daily News, which is a fierce critic of President Robert Mugabe’s government.

But the head of the MIC is to appeal against the ruling, state radio reported late on Friday.

The Daily News was shut down by armed police on September 12 after the Supreme Court said it was operating illegally because it had not registered with the MIC.

After Mugabe’s disputed re-election victory in March 2002, the government introduced tough media laws that require all newspapers and journalists to be registered with the MIC.

The Daily News had refused to register. The outspoken paper, the country’s most popular daily, said the law was unconstitutional and had been specifically designed so the government could shut the paper down.

After police closed the paper, its lawyers applied to the media commission for an operating licence but its request was turned down.

The Daily News then appealed to the court against the commission’s refusal. The Daily News lawyers said the court should register it because the media commission was improperly constituted.

It also said the chairperson of the commission, Tafataona Mahoso, was biased against the paper, as shown by his public statements and articles written for the state-run Sunday Mail.

The new media law, called the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, stipulates that associations representing media organisations and journalists should be consulted on the composition of the media commission.

Lawyers for The Daily News said this had not happened.

On Friday Majuru accepted the paper’s arguments.

”The appeal succeeds given the findings of bias that we have made,” the judge said.

He ruled that the media commission had been ”improperly constituted” and could therefore not ”lawfully issue certificates of registration”.

He said a new commission would have to be appointed before November 30 by the government. Majuru also ruled that the paper would be deemed to be registered if the new commission failed to meet that deadline.

Journalists in the crowded courtroom embraced their Daily News colleagues when they heard the verdict.

”We are pleased with the decision, but our legal battle is not yet over,” the paper’s publisher, Samuel Nkomo told a press conference after the ruling.

He was referring to the paper’s constitutional challenge to the law in the country’s Supreme Court, which it will be able to pursue once it is registered.

”We will humbly continue our business of publishing a newspaper … as soon as possible,” he added. Nkomo said the paper would also be considering legal action for loss of revenue during its six-week closure.

The closure of The Daily News and its weekly sister paper, The Daily News on Sunday, has left about 300 full-time staff and nearly 1 000 vendors jobless.

The closure caused an outcry internationally and locally, sparking fears that press freedom in the Southern African country was under attack.

But the government defended its decision, arguing that The Daily News had defied regulations and was therefore ”a victim of the rule of law”.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hailed Friday’s court ruling as ”a victory for democracy”.

In a statement, MDC spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi said the court’s ruling was ”a vindication of all the progressive forces and the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans who long rejected the commission as a partisan tool”. — Sapa-AFP

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Susan Njanji
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