*PATRIOTIC FRONT GOVERNMENT’S UNPARRALLED RECORD FOR OPENING UP THE AIRWAVES AND CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR A PLURALISTIC AND DIVERSIFIED MEDIA SPEAKS FOR ITSELF*
_By Hon Davies Mwila_
As Zambia continues to move closer to attaining the Vision 2030 objective of becoming a *“prosperous middle-income country by 2030”* through the implementation of the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) inspired by the Patriotic Front Manifesto, a diverse media industry has become increasingly crucial to disseminating information as well as providing checks and balances.
And as far as fostering an enabling environment for a vibrant media is concerned, neutral media commentators have observed that since the Patriotic Formed government in 2011, PF performance in this regard has been nothing short of stellar.
Speaking of stars, 18th Century American Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted that people’s attitude toward the stars would change if the heavenly bodies appeared only once every thousand years. He observed that because humankind sees the heavenly bodies so often, people have grown accustomed to their splendour thereby taking them for granted.
Emerson’s observation is just as pertinent today as it was more than two centuries ago. For instance there are a number of key developments the country is presently enjoying under the Patriotic Front Government, that seemed farfetched under the previous regime seven years ago that are today such an everyday reality that some have become so familiar with these achievements and have taken them for granted.
For instance when the Patriotic Front formed government, in 2011, there were only forty (40) Radio Stations; and a modest number of less than five (5) Television stations operating in our nation.
However, within the seven years the Patriotic Front has been in office, the media industry and broadcasting subsector has grown exponentially. The government has opened up and expanded the airwaves to hitherto unimaginable levels; there are currently111 radio and 42 television stations currently licensed in Zambia.
*EXCERPTS FROM THE PF MANIFESTO: A CLEAR BLUE PRINT FOR MEDIA DEVELOPMENT*
The unprecedented growth of the media industry and the hitherto unparalleled development of a pluralistic and diversified media in Zambia is a direct result of the implementation of the Patriotic Front Manifesto.
The PF Manifesto is among other things ardently committed to:
I. Implementing the provisions of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Amendment Act of 2002 so as to allow ZNBC operate as a public service broadcaster;
II. Reviewing and implementing the provisions of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 2002;
III. Promoting the autonomy of the government print media so as to enable them to compete with the private media;
IV. Reviewing and reconciling the provisions of the Official Secrets Act and the Freedom of Information Bill of 2002 in order to enact the Freedom of Information Bill of 2002 into law;
V. Supporting self-regulation of the media in Zambia; and
VI. Reviewing operations of the public media
*PF UNPARRALLED RECORD FOR OPENING UP THE AIRWAVES AND CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR A PLURALISTIC AND DIVERSIFIED MEDIA*
As earlier alluded to, when the Patriotic Front formed government, in 2011; there were only forty (40) Radio Stations; and less than five (5) Television stations operating in our nation.
Within the seven years the Patriotic Front has been in office, the media industry and broadcasting subsector have enjoyed exceptional growth and the airwaves have been expanded to levels that seven years ago were only dreamed of; there are currently one hundred and eleven (111) radio and forty two (42) television stations; whose existence point to the value Patriotic Front places on the media as development partners in our democracy.
Upon assuming office in 2011, the Patriotic Front Government went in to full gear and operationalised the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in 2013, which hitherto had remained inoperable since 2002 when it was established under the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 2002.
This was an emphatic statement of intent by the PF Government to enhance accountability and level the playing field in the media sector.
Since then, there has been a prolific scaling up of broadcasting licenses to establish radio and television station across Zambia on an unprecedented scale.
This has resulted in a significant increase in the dissemination of diverse information among the citizenry, a development which has in turn galvanised an informed citizenry and improved decision-making among our populace.
The proliferation of commercial, educational, religious and community radio stations has been a major boon to our country as the media have added value to national development as they have gone about their endeavours in effectively playing their role of informing, educating and entertaining. In recognition of this Government has facilitated the various media houses to operate without interference and undue influence, within the terms and regulations of the IBA Act.
This is what has stimulated the rapid progression of commercial, educational, religious and community radio and Television stations from 40 and less than 5 respectively in 2011, to 111 radio and 42 Television stations to date.
*ESTABLISHMENT OF RADIO AND TELEVISION STATIONS IN RURAL AREAS OF ZAMBIA*
However, the PF Government is aware that most of them- especially Television Stations have mostly been concentrated in urban areas. This has denied the rural populace access to information which is critical in enhancing their participation in the affairs of the country.
To redress this state of affairs, the Patriotic Front decided to establish Radio and Television Stations in all the 10 provincial centres in the country.
*THE LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK OF THE BROADCASTING INDUSTRY IN ZAMBIA*
Every licence has its limits; whether it is a driver’s licence, motor vehicle licence, pilots licence or even professional licences for doctors, lawyers, chattered accountant and the like; they all have conditions under which they are given their respective licences. Whilst we are avid believers in various freedoms including freedom of the press, we believe as all right thinking believe, that every freedom has its responsibilities.
The broadcasting industry in Zambia is governed by The Independent Broadcasting Authority Act. Any breach is against the laws of the Republic of Zambia.
Media freedom comes with responsibility. As Oscar Kimanuka – a Rwandan Journalist is quoted to have said:
*“Freedom does not walk alone, it walks with responsibility. It can be compared to a child and its mother; separating them is an attempt to deny the child a motherly love and the mother, the exercising of a natural duty to show love, care and concern”.*
Perhaps we could build upon the Rwandan scribe’s analogy and similarly say:
*“The freedom that comes with a Broadcasting Licence does not walk alone; separating a broadcast licence from the responsibilities and obligations that go with it as promulgated in the IBA Act would be as iresponsible as removing a suckling child from its mother’s breast and placing it in the bosom of a wild animal.”*
Sadly, some media houses have taken this route and they have become political scavengers; abandoning their role of informing, educating and entertaining; they have instead resorted to breaching the terms of their licences; feasting on twisted political agendas and foraging opinionated news – thereby misinforming, mis-educating and mis-entertaining the nation with their inflammatory and irresponsible over-hyped reporting designed to arouse violent sentiments amongst citizens.
According to Kimananuka:
*“During the horrific genocide in Rwanda in 1994, Irresponsible journalism in the then Rwandan hate media played a major part in supporting, or creating an atmosphere to sanction the terrible human suffering that ensued.”*
Through applicable laws we will nip anarchy in the bud as we will not allow in Zambia what our brothers and sisters experienced in Rwanda. We have an industry and a nation to protect.
The Patriotic Front Government under the leadership of His Excellency President Edgar Chagwa Lungu is committed to sustaining the gains made in the media industry during the last seven years under our watch; we are resolved to continue fostering an environment for a diverse and pluralistic media fraternity to thrive in.
Like a starry night sky, the splendour of our achievements outshines the darkness of the maice, envy, fake news and yellow journalism of our detractors. No one can dare take away from our track record in opening up the airwaves…
The Author is Patriotic Front Secretary General_