Constitutional lawyer John Sangwa says the law has to find a way of responding to the threat posed by online Journalism which he says threatens freedom of expression.
Mr Sangwa said the emergence of online media poses the greatest threat to freedom of expression because of the irresponsible manner in which some online media outlets are operated.
He was speaking in Lusaka on Thursday evening during a public discussion organised by the Law Association of Zambia and MISA Zambia on Freedom of Expression.
Other panellists included Daily Nation Managing Editor Richard Sakala and Media Consultant Kellys Kaunda.
‘Today you have got online sites like Tumfweko, Kachepa 360, Zambia Reports and Zambia Watchdog, these sites are a danger to freedom of expression, they cause havoc because they are not accountable to anyone,’ Mr Sangwa stated.
Mr Sangwa who is a State Counsel from Simeza Sangwa Associates said technology has gone ahead of the law hence to develop new responses to deal with threat posed by online media.
‘Unfortunately, the law is now trying to play catch up and we are not doing too good well in that regard. The challenge is how do you police the Internet in the era of self media regulation?’
He said some of the reports published on some online media sites are shocking, rubbish and destructive to society.
‘You might be reading a report online published by a Mr Evans Mulenga, for all you know that Evans Mulenga does not even exist , so how do you hold him to account?’
Mr Sangwa added, ‘in this era of globalisation, people reading those reports in America will believe, down here in Zambia we will know that this rubbish. For me the fact that someone does not want to take ownership of what they publish, it means their intention is evil. They have evil intentions.’
‘The law has to respond to this and when we talk about protection of the law, protection has to be balanced. As much as Journalists want protection from the law, I also want protection from the law because as a lawyer I want to protection the little reputation I have because once you trash that, I will not earn a living,’ Mr Sangwa.
And Mr Sakala said a number of legislation in Zambia make the practice of Journalism a high risk job.
Mr Sakala said the law on defamation, State Secrets and many sections in the penal code infringe on media freedoms and freedom of expression.
He called for Corporate Veil on newspapers publishers to be protected from litigation and liability as in the case of some Directorship in other corporate organisations.
‘The law is draconian. As a publisher, if I publish a newspaper article that incenses the authority, I can be arrested, the Reporter will be arrested including the newspaper vendor,’ Mr Sakala said.
Meanwhile, Mr Kaunda appealed for greater protection of Journalists in the course of their work due to unique role they play in society.
‘History tells us that in Hellenic times, people met in the Amphitheatre to exchange ideas but that was when populations were smaller and in today society, there are millions of people and the Amphitheatre of today is the media hence the need for protection,’ Mr Kaunda said.