THE acquittal of Daily News reporter Kelvin Jakachira, accused of working without accreditation by the Media and Information Commission (MIC), has revealed that the supposedly independent regul
atory body in fact operates under the direction of the President’s Office.
Jakachira was accused of working for the paper between January and September 2003 without a government licence as required by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
But during the course of the trial, his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, asked MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso whether the commission’s postal address was a Causeway box number and whether it was the same address used by the CIO.
Jakachira, a Mutare-based Daily News staffer, had argued that he posted his application to an address advertised by the MIC which turned out to be that of the President’s Office, raising questions about the operations of MIC and its relationship with the CIO.
Mtetwa this week said: “Mahoso refused to answer the question and why an independent body would use a number used by the President’s Office. The natural assumption would be either his response would compromise the independence of the MIC or the President’s Office used the same mailing address as the Department of Information.”
Harare magistrate Prisca Chigumba ruled that Jakachira had applied for accreditation in accordance with Aippa but received no response from the government and that he was therefore entitled to work while awaiting the outcome of his application.
Aippa makes it a criminal offence for media outlets and individual journalists to work without authorisation from the MIC. The charge of working without a licence carries a prison sentence of up to two years, but no journalist has yet been convicted under the repressive law.
Chigumba ruled that Mahoso should have informed Jakachira that his application had been rejected instead of throwing it away and keeping quiet. The court said Jakachira therefore acted lawfully by continuing to work while awaiting the outcome of his application
A day after Jakachira was acquitted, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said the government was considering appealing.
Journalists face up to two years in jail for working without being registered while newspapers face closure and the seizure of their equipment by the state for the same offence.Chinamasa said he would not repeal the law despite government losing nearly every one of the cases brought against journalists under Aippa.
He said his ministry was reviewing Jakachira’s acquittal by a magistrate’s court with a view to appealing to the High Court.
Gweru-based editor of The Sun weekly newspaper Wilie Mponda was slapped with a $200 000 fine for contravening a section of Aippa.Apart from Jakachira, about 45 other journalists who worked for the Daily News and its stablemate, the Daily News on Sunday before both papers were banned, face charges of violating the registration laws.