Harare, February 04, 2016 – Zimbabwe’s media fraternity has hailed Wednesday’s Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling which struck off criminal defamation from the country’s statute books but a local media group was quick to warn journalists were not yet free from state interference.
The landmark ruling followed a constitutional challenge filed by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe Chapter) and four independent media journalists a year ago.
They were seeking an order declaring criminal defamation unconstitutional in terms of the new Constitution.
The four journalists are Nqaba Matshazi, Sydney Saize, Godwin Mangudya and Roger Deane Stringer, an independent media consultant.
The applicants argued that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was unconstitutional as it clashed with Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution and should be struck off.
Both Matshazi and Stringer have been victims of the controversial law.
Arguing the case on behalf of the applicants, Advocate Thembinkosi Magwaliba said Section 96 was invalid from the time of its enactment in 2004.
The ConCourt ruling was also celebrated within the country’s opposition political circles where Anorld Tsunga of PDP sent his “congratulations to Misa, the lawyers and the ConCourt”.
MDC spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi also said the “victory was for us all”.
However, reacting to the development, Misa Zimbabwe welcomed the landmark ruling but warned the state could still use other existing laws to clamp down on press freedom.
“Misa Zimbabwe welcomes the ConCourt judgement that vindicates its incessant calls for the scrapping of this law from the statute books,” said the group in a statement.
“While the judgement is a welcome development, Misa Zimbabwe remains mindful of the fact that there is a litany of statutes that can still be used to criminalise freedom of expression and journalistic enterprise such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Official Secrets Act, and the Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act and the Broadcasting Services Act, among others.”
Journalists, backed by media based groups, prefer those offended by journalists in the line of their duty to exhaust non criminal remedies such as filing their complaints with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe as well as approaching the civil courts.
Journalists are adamant their profession was just as good as other professions such as the legal and medical fraternities which have successfully prescribed professional remedies to complaints by clients as opposed to prosecution.