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Supreme Court declares ban against journalist null and void

(MISA/IFEX) - On 26 March 2008, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku set aside and declared the state-controlled Media and Information Commission's (MIC) ban against senior journalist Brian Hungwe null and void.

The Supreme Court's ruling comes hard on the heels of High Court judge Alfas Chitakunye's dismissal of an urgent application by Hungwe seeking nullification of a one-year ban from practising journalism imposed by the MIC, as provided for by the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

Following Justice Chitakunye's ruling, MISA's lawyer filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on 12 March.

According to the Chief Justice: ". . .in suspending the applicant (Hungwe), the MIC did not comply with Section 85 (3) of (AIPPA). The requirements of Section 85 (3) of the Act are compulsory and the failure to comply with them renders the actions of the MIC a nullity.

"In terms of Section 25 (2) of the Supreme Court Act, a judge of this court has powers to review proceedings of inferior tribunals such as the first respondent - MIC. In the exercise of such powers the respondents' suspension of the applicant is and is hereby set aside on the grounds that it is a nullity."

The ban against Hungwe was imposed under Section 79 of AIPPA, which deals with accreditation of journalists; yet a journalist can only be punished or banned under Section 85 (3) of AIPPA.

Accordingly, under that section, a journalist will be notified in writing of the proposed action and given opportunity to show cause within a reasonable time as to why the intended disciplinary measures should not be taken. Thereafter, the Commission will give the journalist in question a fair hearing and consider representations made before taking action.

In Hungwe's case, the mandatory disciplinary process was not complied with. It is further noted that the AIPPA Amendment Act, which took effect on 11 January, dissolved the MIC in whose place should now be the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), empowered to deal with the matters in question. The ZMC is still to be constituted.

Hungwe filed an urgent application with the High Court after the MIC, which had been given until 5 February to reverse its ban, failed to respond to a letter written by his lawyer. In his application, Hungwe was arguing that the ban was imposed without compliance with the disciplinary procedures specifically set out in the AIPPA.

Updates the Hungwe case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91887

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