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By Lebo Nkatazo

A ZIMBABWEAN High Court has directed the country's media watchdog, the Media and Information Commission (MIC), to reconsider an application for a publishing licence by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ).

Justice Rita Makarau, citing bias on the part of the MIC, directed that the MIC should make a fresh determination on ANZ -- publishers of the banned Daily News and Daily News on Sunday titles.

Justice Makarau added that if the matter to disband the MIC had been brought before her, considering its bias, she could do so, but currently she did not have the power.

“The MIC was biased, it should reconsider the application,” Makarau said in a judgment delivered Wednesday.

This is the second time that an MIC decision has been nullified, following another one by the Supreme Court in 2004.

The ANZ and the MIC were the sole applicant and respondent respectively.

Justice Makarau’s judgment was in response to an application by the ANZ, challenging the MIC’s decision to deny it registration last year. That denial has since split the media body, with former commissioner Jonathan Maphenduka resigning in protest at the decision.

Maphenduka claimed that the MIC had agreed to grant the ANZ a license at its June 16, 2005, meeting but MIC chair Tafataona Mahoso, under pressure from some quarters, overturned the verdict.

In papers filed with the High Court to support the ANZ case, Maphenduka added that at a subsequent meeting of the MIC board, the legal adviser to the board, Daphne Tomana, asked the commission to renege on its earlier position on the ANZ application.

“In a subsequent meeting of the respondent which took place on the 18th of July 2005, one of the commissioners persuaded the respondent to alter its original decision of 16th June 2005 by suggesting fairly forcefully that the Supreme Court judgment stipulated the manner in which respondent should deal with the application of the applicant (ANZ)," Maphenduka stated.

"More specifically it was suggested that the respondent deal with the matter purely on historical terms, that is to say confine itself to the circumstances that obtained at the time the first application of the applicant was made. On the basis of this, therefore, we were persuaded that the applicant’s application for registration should be refused and this is what we eventually did. I am convinced, however, that the approach and the eventual decision resulting from it were largely political,” Maphenduka added.

Mahoso denies any wrongdoing and said Maphenduka never resigned. Mahoso says that the former commissioner should have sent his resignation letter to Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya and not the ministry's permanent secretary, George Charamba.

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