The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) is informing all stakeholders that accreditation of all media practitioners will resume on Monday, 15 June 2020. The Commission had temporarily suspended the accreditation of journalists owing to a High Court interdict obtained by the Zimbabwe Online Content Creators on 5 June 2020.
On 25 May 2020 the Zimbabwe Online Content Creators (ZOCC) lodged an application with the High Court seeking the court to interdict the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) from proceeding with the accreditation of journalists based on the new categorisation framework adopted by the Commission.
The ZOCC won a temporary relief which ordered the Commission to accredit the ZOCC members on the basis of the accreditation categories provided for in Section 79 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [Chapter 10:27] as read with the provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Registration, Accreditation and Levy) Regulations, 2002 (Statutory Instrument 169C of 2002)
The interim judgement indicates that the ZMC Secretariat breached the law by adding two more categories to the accreditation framework which was not provided for by the law. According to the judgement, the law provides only for two categories, that is, local journalists and foreign journalists. This view arises from lack of a clear definition of the concept “category”, since there are several categories under both foreign and local “journalists”.
Viewed closely, the court challenge by ZOCC produced an ironic result that excludes from accreditation members of the very same ZOCC.
In 2002, the then Media and Information Commission Board, guided by the provisions of Statutory Instrument 169C of 2002, further refined the accreditation process by adopting an accreditation framework that created the following categories for local journalists:
JE Local Journalist employed locally on full-time basis
JF Local Journalist free-lancing locally
JO Local Journalist running an office for foreign media service
JS Local Journalist stringing for foreign media service
JM Local Journalist reporting both locally and abroad
JT Foreign Journalist on temporary permit
This framework was further adopted by subsequent MIC and ZMC boards.
The Commission Secretariat, in the absence of a board (which has not been in place for five years now) and due to the growth of the digital media, added two additional categories based on the principle and framework already in place. The added categories include the following;
JP Local Media Practitioner in content creation, film, photography, public relations and all forms of digital media.
JD Local Journalist in Digital/Social Media
Important to note is that SI 169C of 2002 does not classify journalists but gives the Commission powers to come up with an accreditation framework as was done in 2002.
The judgement compels the ZMC to accredit journalists based on the SI 169C and Section 79 of AIPPA. Important to note here is that AIPPA provides for the accreditation of journalists only and provides for the definition of a journalists which include the following:
“journalists” means a person who gathers, collects, edits or prepares news, stories, materials and information for a mass media service, whether as an employee of the service or as a freelancer.
Further, according to SI 169C of 2002, Second Schedule (Section 2), provides in Form AP3 the requirements for accreditation of a journalist. The requirements include, among others, academic qualifications and professional qualifications. This assumes that for one to be a journalist, one needs to meet certain basic standards.
The ZMC board did acknowledge some practising journalists who do not have professional qualifications but had their works published and/or acknowledged by editors. For this group, the Commission required that one submits to the Commission five written articles that were published or broadcasts by a mass media service.
The import of the judgement is that the Commission should proceed to accredit journalists as provided for by AIPPA and SI 169C of 2002. What this means is that the Commission has to follow the letter and spirit of the law which require basic standards for one to be a journalist. This will leave out media practitioners working for online and digital platforms who do not have journalism qualifications as these were not envisaged by the Act. What it means is that a good number of ZOCC members will be left by the judgement sought by their association.
In the spirit of inclusiveness and in line with the provisions of the Constitution regarding free expression, access to information and freedom of the media the Commission met with ZOCC and its attorneys on Tuesday, 10 June 2020 at the offices of the Commission’s attorneys to discuss the implications of the judgement on the accreditation of journalists and ZOCC members.
The following was agreed on:
That the Commission proceeds with accreditation of journalists based on the categorisation as previously adopted by the Commission.
The ZOCC will avail to ZMC a register of all its members. The ZOCC advised the meeting that all bloggers and online content creators are registered members of the association and that the association had chapters across all provinces of the country.
Members of ZOCC who are qualified journalists will be accredited as freelance journalists as has been the case in the past. Those without qualification will be accredited as per the adopted category by ZMC. These practitioners will carry the category JD.
The Commission proposed this scenario which was adopted by both parties as the High Court decision was retrogressive as it would have resulted in a number of practitioners unable to be accredited by the Commission.
The Commission would soon be meeting all concerned stakeholders to deliberate further on the categorisation of media practitioners post Covid19 national lockdown.
Issued by the Zimbabwe Media Commission
DATE: 12 June 2020