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Limiting live streaming of court proceedings hinders transparency and public engagement

25 Jul 2023 at 09:41hrs | Views
In recent days, the issue of live streaming court proceedings in Zimbabwe has come to the forefront, causing a stir among media organizations and proponents of open justice. I believe Bulawayo High Court's refusal to grant Asakhe Online permission to live stream the ongoing election petition cases is a clear infringement on the right to access information and the work of media organizations.

Asakhe Online, a reputable media outlet based in Bulawayo, had filed a request to the Bulawayo High Court to live stream the election cases currently being heard. Surprisingly, no counsel objected to this request, signaling a recognition of the importance of transparency and public access to judicial proceedings. However, Justice Bongani Ndlovu, the presiding judge, only granted partial access, allowing live streaming of the ruling alone, while denying full access to the entire proceedings.

This partial granting of live streaming rights is deeply concerning, as it compromises the public's right to information and obstructs the media's ability to effectively cover and analyze the cases. Kucaca Phulu, the lawyer representing Asakhe Online, rightly argued that the judge's ruling deprived citizens of the background and context necessary to fully understand the arguments being made.

The High Court's decision clearly violates the right to impart and receive information, as well as the media rights enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution. In a case of intense public interest like this, it is crucial for media organizations to cover the entirety of the proceedings, especially given the potential dismissal of multiple candidates running for the National Assembly.

It is worth noting that the High Court did not deny the public interest surrounding the election petition cases; instead, it simply limited the live streaming to the judgments themselves. However, as Phulu rightly points out, judgments are typically concise and lack the comprehensive details of the arguments presented in court. By excluding the full proceedings, the court is effectively starving the public of essential information needed to understand the intricacies of the case.

The reservation of judgment by Justice Ndlovu further compounds the issue at hand. If the ruling is made on another day, as is likely, it may end up being nothing more than a one-liner. This raises concerns about the public's access to vital information and the transparency of our justice system. After all, the courts are meant to be a system of open justice, ensuring that the public can witness and comprehend the proceedings.

To rectify this situation, it is imperative for the courts to allow live streaming in the future and establish clear rules governing media organizations' participation in such proceedings. South Africa sets a precedent in this regard, having rules in place that enable journalists to apply for participation and live streaming from the court.

Moving forward, it is vital for Zimbabwe to embrace the principles of transparency and open justice. The denial of live streaming rights not only undermines media freedom but also inhibits the public's ability to actively engage with and understand important legal proceedings. A thorough examination of the constitutional rights to access information and media rights is necessary to prevent such violations and protect the integrity of our justice system.

Kumbirai Thierry Nhamo |
Writer, Blogger, Poet and Researcher
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Source - Kumbirai Thierry Nhamo
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