The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) has registered its dismay at a Zimbabwe High Court decision to bar journalists from covering the trial arising out of an alleged coup, writes Torby Muturikwa.
On 22 June 2007 High Court Judge Justice Tedius Karwi ruled that the proceedings should be held in camera, citing the sensitive nature of the case.
Justice Karwi made the ruling after Lawrence Phiri of the Attorney-GeneralÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Office applied to have members of the public, including the press, excluded from the proceedings under the Courts and Adjudicating Authorities (Publicity Restriction) Act.
However, the decision has been castigated by many media houses and members of the public who all feel that the ban robs people of the right to information.
Matters have been complicated by the fact that the alleged coup plotter – Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa – has been cleared of any wrongdoing by President Robert Mugabe.
Rashweat Mukundu, director of Misa Zimbabwe, said the news blackout imposed on the court proceedings had deprived the public of their right to information pertaining to issues of public interest and national concern.
He said: "The blackout has handicapped the media from reporting objectively and authoritatively on the coup plot, a serious national issue which is already before the courts and should therefore be in the public domain.
"MISA-Zimbabwe submits that a total news blackout on the court proceedings is unfair and not in the public and national interest as it gives room to all sorts of speculations on what exactly transpired and is happening in the courts".
He said that the courts and all judicial proceedings should be public events subject to media reportage so that justice is not only done but seen to be done, adding that in this regard the media becomes an important player in conveying the proceedings to the generality of citizens.
"In a politically charged environment such as Zimbabwe, issues pertaining to national security are often clouded with political overtones and innuendos and it is in the interest of the state that matters relating to threats to national security and stability are played out in the public and in the open so that all parties are satisfied.
"It is in this regard that the media blackout further fuels speculation and uncertainty as to what is really happening. Contrary to the views of the state that this case should be treated with secrecy as it threatens national security, MISA-Zimbabwe contends that it is in fact the media blackout that will result in all sorts of speculation and falsehoods which is not healthy to national interest and security," said Mukundu.
He says in the spirit of transparency, justice and fairness, the state should allow the media and the public access to the court proceedings.
Last month, security agents arrested six people whom they said were planning to stage a coup against Mugabe. The six men are out on bail.
Mnangagwa was implicated in the failed plot, dismissed by President Robert Mugabe as part of the on-going succession battle within his ruling Zanu PF party.
Mnangagwa and Vice President Joyce Mujuru are front-runners to succeed Mugabe. The two have been rivals for decades.
When the six alleged coup plotters were arrested, Mujuru was acting President and it is widely believed she wanted Mnangagwa arrested when he was "fingered" in the plot.