By Alex Bell
13 January 2011
The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) said this week that recently increased journalist fees, which have sparked fears of a media clampdown, “are not legally binding.”
The government has quadrupled registration and accreditation fees for Zimbabwean journalists working for international media houses. In new fees announced by the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Webster Shamu, reporters working for foreign media will be required to pay a US$400 accreditation fee, up from US$100. Their employers meanwhile will have to pay US$6 000 annually, more than double the current rate of US$2 500. The new regulations for 2011 will also see journalists working for foreign media paying an application fee of US$100, up from US$20, while southern African news groups will have to pay annual fees of US$2 000, up from US$1 000.
Shamu has since distanced himself from the exorbitant fee increase, which has been described as ‘retributive’ and ‘punitive’ by media rights groups. Shamu said in a statement last week that the fees were pegged by the nine-member Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), which “only turns to the Minister and the Ministry for legal administrative instruments that give full effect to its decisions.” He said the Ministry’s relationship with the ZMC was “strictly administrative.”
MISA-Zimbabwe said on Wednesday that, while Minister Shamu’s statements are legally correct, “the wording in the Statutory Instrument 186 of 2010 gazetting the accreditation fees implies that the regulations emanated from his Ministry.” The Instrument that was published as a supplement to the Zimbabwe Gazette dated 31 December 2010, states that the Ministry “made” the regulations in terms of Section 91 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
“Going by the wording of the Statutory Instrument, the ministry is in violation of the law, making the Instrument invalid and consequently of no legal force. This is because section 91 of AIPPA, which formerly empowered the Minister to make regulations as stated in the Statutory Instrument, was amended in 2007 to give the ZMC the authority to make such regulations. The Ministry only approves them,” MISA-Zimbabwe said in a statement.
MISA-Zimbabwe’s Legal Officer Farai Nhende told SW Radio Africa that their point of contestation is that the wording of the gazetted regulations “presupposes that the regulations came from the Ministers office.” He explained that “it is all too apparent that the regulations have not emanated from the office of the ZMC.”
“They (the regulations) are of no legal force at all,” Nhende said. “Basically the Minister would have usurped the powers that are supposed to be vested in the ZMC.”
MISA-Zimbabwe said that since the gazetting of the Statutory Instrument on the new accreditation and registration fees was inconsistent with the enabling legislation, “they are void and therefore cannot be legally binding.”
The ZMC meanwhile has said it will not back down from the fee increases and has warned that journalists who practice without proper accreditation will be prosecuted. Godfrey Majonga, who heads the Commission, said on Friday that the policy will stand firm.
“We will not reduce the fees. Probably we will extend the period a little,” he said.