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Chair of media commission retained despite bias against publisher applying for licence

(MISA/IFEX) - The government has controversially retained Dr. Tafataona Mahoso as the chairperson of the restructured state-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) which will look into the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe's (ANZ) application to be duly licensed despite court findings on his bias against the publishing company.

On 30 October 2007, Dr. Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, the minister of information and publicity, said the new MIC board had been constituted in line with court rulings directing ANZ, publishers of the banned "Daily News" and "Daily News on Sunday", to approach the ministry in respect of its application for registration as a publishing company in terms of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

Ironically, the minister directed the new board to deal with the ANZ application and pay "particular attention to the law and parameters set by all court rulings made on the matter".

While the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe welcomes Dr. Ndlovu's directive for the board to look into the ANZ application in line with the "parameters set by all court rulings", the minister should however, clarify the terms of reference that will govern the adjudication of the ANZ application in view of the existing court findings against Dr. Mahoso's bias in the matter. It should also be made clear whether a reconstituted MIC which is still answerable to the minister and the Executive can be trusted with the independent and impartial adjudication of the ANZ application in view of the courts' findings against Dr. Mahoso.

This is an issue that is central and key to the impartial resolution of the ANZ matter. The question that should then be addressed is whether the ministry is complying with judicial decisions by allowing a reconstituted MIC chaired by Dr. Mahoso to preside over the ANZ case.

The role that Dr. Mahoso will play in the ANZ matter should be made public as it has a bearing on the government's respect and adherence to decisions made by the courts, especially where it concerns his bias against the publishing company.

The government should clearly and unambiguously demonstrate its sincerity and impartiality towards final resolution of the ANZ legal battle to be declared duly licensed as directed by the courts. To allow Dr. Mahoso to be involved in this matter, unless we are advised otherwise, does not inspire confidence that the process will be impartial.

MISA-Zimbabwe also notes with concern that as executive chairperson of the MIC, Dr Mahoso wields tremendous power which might have a bearing on the outcome of the adjudication of the ANZ application.

The minister should also make public the criteria he used in appointing Chinondidyachii Mararike, Charity Sally Moyo, Edward Dube, Tendai Joseph Chari and Ngugi Wa Mirii to the new MIC board and whether the appointments were made in compliance with the provisions of the repressive and restrictive AIPPA. Section 40 of AIPPA, which deals with the appointment and composition of the MIC, stipulates, among other things, that at least three members of the board should be nominated by an association of journalists and appointed by the minister after consultation with the president and in accordance with any directions that the president may give him.

These issues should be done in the spirit of transparency and accountability; otherwise the whole process will be a farcical charade.

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