HIGH Court Judge Bharat Patel yesterday postponed to today the case of four freelance journalists challenging the legality of the Media and Information Commission (MIC).
Patel postponed the matter after lawyers representing the respondents -—— Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu, the ministry’s permanent secretary George Charamba, MIC executive chairperson Tafataona Mahoso and Prime Minister Morgan TsvangiraiÂ —— said they had received court papers too late on Wednesday to get instructions from their clients.
Shamu, Charamba and Tsvangirai were represented by the Attorney-General’s office, while Mercy Chizodza appeared for Mahoso.
The four freelance journalists, Stanley Gama, Valentine Maponga, Stanley Kwenda and Jealous Mawarire, filed an urgent chamber application on Wednesday arguing that the MIC was abolished in January 2008 after the amendment to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
The journalists, through their lawyer Selby Hwacha, argued that the MIC was null and void and had no legal basis to require them to register with it to cover the ongoing Comesa Summit at Victoria Falls.
Last week, the MIC announced that journalists wishing to cover the Comesa summit should register with it.
Â “Unless this honourable court intervenes urgently, applicants and the general public will suffer irreparable harm,” said Hwacha in the certificate of urgency.
During yesterday’s brief hearing, Justice Patel quizzed the counsel for the respondents as to whether a postponement to today would serve any purpose to the journalists given the urgency of the application and the fact that the Comesa Summit had already commenced.
The judge also enquired whether the arguments for the respondents would be legal or factual stating that the latter had no relevance to the proceedings as the question was whether the statement published in the Herald of June 2 regarding the status of the MIC was either correct or incorrect at law.
He later ruled that the matter be postponed to today and be heard without regard to whether or not the counsel for respondents would have received instructions by then.
Meanwhile, Shamu and Charamba last week summoned state media editors and instructed them to limit their coverage of Tsvangirai.
The editors were summoned to Shamu’s office on Thursday and given a tongue-lashing and warned that they should scale down on Tsvangirai’s coverage or face dismissal.
Editors summoned were those from the Sunday Mail, the Herald, the Chronicle, the Sunday News, Kwayedza and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
Media deputy minister Jameson Timba was not invited to the meeting with the state editors.
Sources said Shamu and Charamba were livid over the positive stories Tsvangirai and cabinet ministers from his party were getting in the state media, especially on television.
“The two made it clear to the state editors that it was unacceptable for them to cover Tsvangirai on a daily basis and ordered that the state media should ignore his activities. Instead they were instructed to increase coverage of activities by ministers from Zanu PF in the all-inclusive government,” said one of the sources.
The sources said Shamu and Charamba told the state editors that the stories they carried implied that the success of the all-inclusive government was only driven by the two MDCs and not Zanu PF.
Charamba is said to have warned the state editors to desist from covering statements from the MDC ministers as policy.
Efforts to get comment from Shamu and Charamba were in vain last night.
BY NQOBILE BHEBHE AND LOUGHTY DUBE