By Henry Kyambalesa

The continued push for statutory regulation of the media in Zambia is a clear indication of the fact that we are currently being ruled by the most arrogant, stubborn, snobbish, elusive, and tyrannical leaders like Ronnie Shikapwasha, George Kunda and Rupiah Banda. One wonders why government leaders would be so adamant about statutory media regulation in the face of so much opposition to the idea!

They have clearly shown us that they represent their individual and partisan interests rather than the common interests of Zambians at large. And it is shameful that they are trying to portray the support for such legislation from a segment of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) cadres as a national clamor for the contemplated legislation! No one outside the MMD would, in his or her right frame of mind, support the enactment of legislation designed to control all media operations in the country.

As Fr Pete Henriot has lamented, “If the current operations of ZNBC-TV are to be a guide for what that control might mean, then I fear we are in for the death of free electronic media. And of course, we can also see what it might mean to have government-mandated control of the independent printed press by simply observing what ‘reporting’ means for the State-owned and government-controlled press.”

And Shikapwasha’s arrogance in this regard is undermining the confidence Zambians have in former military officers’ leadership qualities. We have had so many ministers of Information and Broadcasting Services since independence and only during his tenure of office have we experienced incessant calls for statutory media regulation.

The kind of strict control which the MMD government has maintained over public media institutions is characteristic of socialist states and dictatorships. So, we can conclude that we are actually being governed by a clique of despots masquerading as democrats!

And Shikapwasha’s arrogance in this regard is undermining the confidence Zambians have in former military officers’ leadership qualities. We have had so many ministers of Information and Broadcasting Services since independence and only during his tenure of office have we experienced incessant calls for statutory media regulation. I am even reminded of the following observation made by Comrade Kenneth D. Kaunda about the military mind:

“With certain brilliant exceptions, the military mind is not adept at the arts of politics. It knows little of the compromises, accommodations and persuasion which underlie political decisions. Because the military leader must have an unquestioning conviction that he knows what is best for those under him, he is prone to translate this possibly unwarranted self-confidence into the political sphere with disastrous results, for there are no representative mechanisms through which he can be curbed.”

Citizens’ clamor for freedom of expression and of the press has been loud and clear. They are wary of the current situation whereby large segments of the mass media are state-owned, under tight controls by the government of the day, and the virtues of individuals’ rights and freedoms are subordinate to those of the ruling party and the state.

There is really no need for statutory regulation of the media which Shikapwasha and his colleagues in the MMD are contemplating. What the government needs to do is to operationalize the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in order for the broadcasting media to be regulated by an independent body, and to enact the Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill and make it possible for journalists to access information that is vital to both the media and members of the public.

Passage of legislation relating to freedom of information and the operationalization of the IBA would, accordingly, be accompanied by rules and regulations by which media institutions would be expected to operate. Among the functions of the IBA, for example, would be to promote broadcasting standards and codes of ethics and practice.

Besides, existing laws and regulations provide the necessary checks and limitations on the operations of media institutions and journalists in the country. The Penal Code (introduced in 1931 and amended in 1990), for example, defines the following as criminal offences: sedition and defamation (Chapter 191), defamation of the President (Chapter 69), and defamation of foreign princes and the publication of false news that incites fear or violence or damages the national security of the country (Chapter 67).

Other pieces of legislation which provide additional regulation of media operations in Zambia include the following: the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Act (1987), National Broadcasting Corporation (Amendment) Act (2002), Theatres and Cinematograph Exhibition Act (1929), Criminal Procedure Code Act (1933), Radio Communications Act (1994), Printed Publications Act (1994), Information and Communications Technologies Act (2009), and Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (2009 ).

In fact, self-regulation is the best form of regulation which can promote high standards in the media that is recommended under international law, not statutory regulation.

In all, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is one of the government ministries which need to be abolished. It is a liability to tax payers. Its functions can be effectively and efficiently be performed by the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the office of the Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations, public relations units in government ministries, and MMD’s information and public relations units.

There is also a need to open up the Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), and the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) in order to make it possible for all segments of Zambian society to articulate their needs, demands and aspirations through them. We should not allow the government to continue to maintain a monopoly over the use of public media institutions. It is high time we made it possible for all segments of Zambian society to gain fair access to such institutions!

In the medium term, there will be a need to break up the public media through privatization.

The role of a free press in the creation of a system of governance in which accountability, transparency, rule of law, and public participation in governmental decision making cannot perhaps be overemphasized. We should not expect our multi-party democracy to function effectively without such a system of governance.

The effective checks and balances we seek to introduce into our system of government are not possible in a political setting where the government is a prominent player in the fourth estate – that is, the media. On the other hand, members of the private media need to be professional and responsible if they are to play an important role in exposing abuses of power and deficiencies in governance. They, for example, need to avoid statements or actions that are demeaning, inflammatory and/or harmful to others.

The role of a free press in the creation of a system of governance in which accountability, transparency, rule of law, and public participation in governmental decision making cannot perhaps be overemphasized. We should not expect our multi-party democracy to function effectively without such a system of governance.

Press freedom carries with it a great deal of responsibility on the part of journalists; it is, therefore, important to remember that other societal members have fundamental and constitutional rights which need to be safeguarded, too. In shorthand, a journalist’s freedom to report on any given issue ends where societal members’ rights also come into play – such as the right to privacy. It is also essential for journalists to guard themselves against the temptation to engage in speculation and rumor-mongering.

In passing, we all expect the functions of the mass media in our beloved country to include the following:

(a) To serve as a watchdog to the three organs of government – that is, the judiciary, the legislature and the executive;

(b) To inform the public about issues which are of national interest;

(c) To serve as a medium of communication that guarantees free and open debate and discussion among members of society;

(d) To influence public opinion through impartial, balanced and fair analysis of issues that are of national interest; and

(e) To serve the economic system through sponsored advertisements designed to bring buyers and sellers into contact with each other.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Read Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights please, you will discover that George Kunda and Ronnie Shikapwasha are cretins who continuously need dummies (ifititi) in their mouths.

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  2. Do we have examples of countries with no media regulation? please, give me just one example other than zambia.

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  3. Do a google on the country where you are on “statutory media regulation.” There is only media self-regulation and some pieces of legislation like the ones in Zambia which the author has cited. In fact, none of the members of the EU has statutory media regulation. We should not be looking at other very poor countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, etc. to mimmick the way in which they run the affairs of their countries. Google “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe freedom of the media” and see how the 56 or so member countries handle issues relating to media regulation.

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  4. no media control is lawlessness, let them regulate themselves but their is a lot of resistance fromonly one man whom you all know. he has his own journalism school he has kicked out all scribes from unza and evelyn hone. he doesnt belong to paza, misa, zuj but has his own press freedom chakuti chakuti. he will insult you at will remember he called FTJ and mwanawasa all soughts of names all in the name of press freedom. we shall regulate you just like any other proffesssion in the country. abash gutter journalism

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  5. THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it does not believe in media self- regulation but will not support a proposed media tribunal until there is more clarity on how it would be constituted. This from a country with the most liberal constitution in the world! Now, what about Zambia’s situation?
    Media SELF-REGULATION in Zambia WILL NOT WORK.

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  6. Natasha # 6,7 I asked for an example, now check the waffle you gave me. Does it mean all countries have some regulation -self or statutory, right? Here in the UK, the media do not mess with the Offcom and i am sure it is the same in the US with the reulators there.

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  7. The offcom is the statutory body that regulates the media in the UK, all western countries have such organisations, needless to say they work independently but they have strict media codes. the POST type wouldnt publish here.

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  8. # 12 sata the post kind of gutter journalism has only existed in zambia bcos in the usa the editor would have been put away for so many years. when you look at the post the chief editor is an accountant now rookie lawyer with no practice experience but for his own use, arguements. the post have news sources like mpombo who study dictionary everyday just to learn a new insulting vocabulary. post have now ditched HH bcos they know he is a loose cannon who can put them in shit with his verbal diarrhoea. they have given hh total blackout bcos of his rabid but unsubstantiated attacks on anyone he thinks is blocking his chances of going to statehouse

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  9. In the eyes of the Post Cuba is a great democracy and Zambia is a dictatorship. At the Post, the truth is what Mmembe likes. During the 2006 elections, Michael Sat was a scou.ndrel as far as the Post was concerned, today because Mmembe likes him, he is the man.

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  10. Zambians like sensationalism that’s why the juice that filters from membe’s sewage is sipped with abundant joy

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  12. The Crap that we see in the political print media is enough reason for the need to level the plain field, for example M’membe sincerly believes that he owns the people of Zambia (his editorials makes reference to “our People”) and that he is above the law. If we have a code of ethics even for some politicians who are actually editors (Such as Fred M’membe) of news papers then it will be fair that we all play by the same rules. It is ofcourse common knowledge that M’membe will fight this tooth and nail and twist the news as much as possible to suit his hiden agenda. An objective print media will never run an editorial about an individula for the whole week whether for an individual or a head of state. Even the blind person will “see” your hiden agenda.

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