… It is no longer an offense for one to operate as a journalist without accreditation: ZMC
SECONDARY accreditation of journalists by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to cover elections is provided for by the ZEC Act and it cannot be wished away, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) executive secretary, Godwin Phiri has said.
He said this during a Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) pre-election training workshop for political parties, duty bearers and other stakeholders held recently in Mutare.
During the workshop plenary session, journalists had asked why local media has to be accredited by ZEC to cover elections regardless of having been accredited with the ZMC. Phiri revealed that secondary accreditation by ZEC is meant to ensure journalists have direct access to information at the polling station, but generally all journalists are allowed to cover the electoral process. He said the annual accreditation by ZMC enables all journalists to freely work and cover the whole electoral process wherever, except at polling stations where secondary accreditation is required by ZEC.
“You can cover political rallies or any elections content without secondary accreditation from ZEC. However, please note that ZEC does not accredit journalists, but it accredits observers, so for one to access the polling station you will no longer just be a journalist, but you will now be an observer as well. So for them to account for you at the polling station, ZEC has to do secondary accreditation of journalists as observers,” said the ZMC executive secretary.
Phiri added that observers adhere to a code of conduct at polling stations which is why journalists need to become registered as observers to get access to the privileged information that only observers have access to when overseeing elections at a polling station.
Section 239 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on the powers and functions of ZEC, allows the Commission to accredit observers of elections and referendums.
“There are many sensitive issues at polling stations so there is need for a code of conduct which is what every observer accredited acts in accordance with. Some call this double accreditation, but we call it secondary accreditation. Primary accreditation of journalists in Zimbabwe is done by the Zimbabwe Media Commission, recognizing you as a practicing journalist,” he said.
He also set the record straight that the new media laws in Zimbabwe under the Second Republic government, it is no longer an offense for one to operate as a journalist without accreditation from ZMC.
“There is no law that says you can’t, but it is just advantageous operating with an accreditation card. We have since engaged the police over and over to conscientize them that it is not a crime to operate without an accreditation card under the current laws. Under the repealed AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) yes it was an offense, but not under the Zimbabwe Media Commission Act and the new FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). There is no offense that says operating without accreditation,” said Phiri.
Phiri however underscored that the problem with the secondary accreditation by ZEC is around the amount charged, but they have been engaging with ZEC to charge a reasonable once-off fee.
“We want to make it a point that maybe if you pay for your accreditation, it will cater for the whole election process including by-elections, if they occur afterwards, rather than keep charging new fees for every electoral process for the same elections in a particular tenure. It is not fair to keep charging secondary fees,” he said.
During the local councils and parliamentary by-elections held in March last year, journalists complained about the double accreditation by ZEC. The accreditation fees were US$20 for observers from the African continent, US$50 for Zimbabwean media practitioners accredited with the ZMC and working in Zimbabwe for foreign media houses whilst US$10 or ZWL equivalent at prevailing bank rate, was for Zimbabwean local media practitioners accredited with ZMC.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) were against secondary accreditation by ZEC and issued press statements.
“It is MISA Zimbabwe’s well-considered view that this dual accreditation and the fees in question can be a deterrent for media practitioners to undertake their work without any fear of harassment, exclusion, arrest, and detention while covering the elections,” read part of the press statement from MISA Zimbabwe last year against secondary accreditation of journalists.
ZEC Manicaland deputy elections officer Sekai Chipise during the workshop said for one to be accredited as an election observer the respective organization must apply to the ZEC chief executive officer for validation. She said applications for accreditation as election observers are already open and underway in Harare at Belvedere Teachers College, but they will soon decentralize to all the provinces.