Delaying enacting Access to Information law retrogressive – Panos
The Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has observed that the delay in enacting the Access to Information Bill in Zambia is depriving citizens access to detailed information for them to participate in national development.
PSAf Executive Director, Lilian Kiefer, says the absence of the law is indirectly causing a decline in investigative journalism in the country.
Ms Kiefer says investigative journalism among journalists in the country is declining because scribes are legally restricted from the necessary information they require.
Ms Kiefer says actions by some stakeholders have also instilled fear among media personnel.
She said this is a press statement released to ZANIS in Lusaka today.
“The delay in enacting the Access to Information law in Zambia is indirectly causing a decline in investigative journalism in the country, thus depriving citizens access to detailed information for them to participate in national development,” Ms Kiefer said.
She said investigative journalism strives where the environment is conducive for journalists to conduct their investigations without fear of being victimised by certain stakeholders who may have direct or indirect interests in the investigations.
She said the current environment in Zambia makes investigative journalism a very risky practice as evidenced by the growing incidences where journalists have been arrested or had their homes raided while they conducted investigations in national interest.
Ms Kiefer recollected that recently, police in Ndola reportedly searched the home of Post Newspapers reporter, Abigail Chaponda, who they suspected to have illegally obtained some government documents, a move she described as ‘retrogressive’.
She said once enacted, the Access to Information Bill would provide a legal framework through which journalists could access public records, with well-defined channels for follow up as the law will also provide a level of protection.
The PSAf Executive Director said there is a lot of useful information that is just sitting idle in public documents but in most cases journalists cannot access or use that information because of a wide range of restrictions, threats and other hindrances.
Ms Kiefer said the media, as the fourth estate, plays an effective role as a watchdog, keeping checks and balances and providing a platform through which citizens can publicly raise concerns about different issues.
Ms Kiefer stressed that her organisation has always emphasised that Investigative Journalists have the responsibility to ensure that they conduct themselves ethically and legally at all times without coming in confrontation with the law.
She disclosed that over the past decade, PSAf has supported tens of Investigative Journalists in Zambia and across Southern Africa coverage of various development issues, ranging from health, HIV and AIDS, climate change, the extractive industries, governance, democracy, elections among others.
But government has assured that it remains committed to enacting the Access to Information Bill.
Vice-President, Guy Scott said the PF government is making strong efforts to bring the Access to Information Bill back to Parliament for enactment and to prepare for its implementation.
Dr Scott, citing the previous MMD government, said the PF government is convinced beyond reasonable doubt that a government that operates in secrecy attracts undue criticism and alienates itself from the people.