The Zimbabwe Media and Information Commission (MIC) has banned a
leading journalist from practising for a year, writes Torby Muturikwa.
However, lawyers for Brian Hungwe, a Zimbabwean national and former SABC correspondent, argue the ban is illegal and are petitioning the high court to reverse the ban.
ungwe originally had his licence withdrawn in August last year for allegedly violating a section of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) which requires that a representative office of a foreign mass media service must get permission from the country's media watchdog before setting up in Zimbabwe.
Hungwe appealed against the ban by the Media and Information Commission (MIC), but in a letter to the journalist dated Wednesday, February 26, 2008, the MIC said he had failed to lodge an appeal within 28 days as required by the law and must now serve the full ban.
The MIC said: "The MIC is not in a position to entertain your appeal as there is no basis in law for such an appeal now."
The former Zimbabwe Independent scribe and CNN Africa Reporter of the Year winner becomes the second journalist to be banned from practising by the MIC after it revoked the licence it had issued to freelance journalist Nunurai Jena in 2007.
Jena was accused of writing for websites hostile to President Robert Mugabe' s government.
Hungwe's ban comes against a backdrop of escalating violations against the press by the government in the run-up to watershed March Presidential and general elections.
However, Selby Hwacha, the lawyer representing Hungwe, has lodged an appeal at the High Court asking the court to nullify the MIC decision.
MISA-Zimbabwe engaged Hwacha under its Media Defence Fund facility to challenge the ban.
Hungwe applied for accreditation around the 5th of January 2007. Six months later, in July 2007 he received notice to appear before a hearing in respect of the application.
Instead of this hearing, however, he in September received a letter from the Commission to which was attached a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œdisciplinary determinationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â which found Hungwe guilty of contravening Sections 79 (5) and 90 of AIPPA Chapter 10:27. The determination resulted in the one-year blanket ban against Hungwe.
HisÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â lawyers are arguing that the disciplinary hearing was not properly conducted. They are also pointing to the fact that parliament in January dissolved the MIC and replaced it with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). The ZMC is still to be constituted.