SPECIAL assistant to the President for press and public relations Amos Chanda says the media must be more responsible so that politicians can accelerate legislating the Access to Information (ATI) bill.
Mr Chanda said during a panel discussion on the World Press Freedom at the American Embassy yesterday that most politicians are afraid to support the bill because some media houses have been irresponsible in the manner they report issues.
“Responsibility is a necessary pre-requisite to enacting the ATI bill into law. For your information, the ATI was almost tabled before Parliament but three days before that could happen, some irresponsible media got its hands on it and that is how it was withdrawn. It is extremely vital for journalists to be responsible,” he said.
Mr Chanda said President Lungu does not take offence with criticism, but there is need for the media to be more responsible.
“If we act responsibly, the ATI can come faster than we think. In the developed countries there are systems in place that take care of offensive posts on the internet,” he said.
Mr Chanda said there is a lot of goodwill from President Lungu’s government on media freedom and law reforms.
“It is so frustrating to see an unprofessional media. The media has failed, for example, to set an agenda to debate the draft constitution,” he said.
And acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services Isaac Chipampe said: “Politicians are scared of on-line media because of defamation.”
Mr Chipampe, who was part of the panel discussion, said the terror and fear some media houses drive in the minds of decision-makers is legitimate.
He said most of the blame Government gets is because of irresponsible reporting by some media houses.
“There is no initiative on the part of most journalists. Most of them prefer to write about politics at the expense of real issues such as women walking long distances to draw water,” he said.
Mr Chipampe said the draft ATI bill is ready to go to Cabinet for approval before being taken to Parliament.
He said it is Government’s position that information must flow very quickly as this is the only way development will come.
“This Government believes that there must be free flow of information as this is the only way development will be accelerated,” Mr Chipampe said.
And American ambassador to Zambia Eric Shultz said it is important for the media to be professional as the country prepares for the 2016 elections.
Mr Shultz said the media will play a key role in the forthcoming polls.
“It is thus important that the ATI bill gets passed into law because this will open up funding from the US government resulting in the improved flow of information to citizens,” he said.
The panel discussion was attended by various journalists who included the High Commissioner-designate to South Africa Emmanuel Mwamba, former President Rupiah Banda’s special assistant for press and public relations Dickson Jere, Kellys Kaunda and Zambia Daily Mail news editor Jerry Munthali, among others.