VETERAN politician Vernon Mwaanga has advised the government against regulating the media.
And members of the audience grilled Information and Broadcasting permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo after he disclosed that the government had already prepared a framework to regulate the media in the country.
Making a submission at a public discussion organised by News Diggers and Open Society Initiative for Southern African at Lusaka’s Hotel InterContinental on Thursday, Mwaanga warned that such a move would result in State control of the media.
The discussion featured Kasolo, Press Association of Zambia president Andrew Sakala, ActionAid country director Nalucha Nganga Ziba, and Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zambia national director Austin Kayanda.
Mwaanga, who also chronicled his experiences as Times of Zambia editor-in-chief in the early 1970s, said he had never supported concealment of public information.
‘’Politicians must be accountable for what they do and say to the public. And that is the job of the media, to make them account. So when you think of regulating the media then you are telling them that they should not check on any excesses from politicians,’’ Mwaanga submitted.
‘’I was editor-in-chief at the Times of Zambia, a State-owned newspaper, but we still had editorial independence. And that was a one-party State, but even in a one-party State there was no intention to regulate the media. And the reality is that media regulation is the first step towards control; you cannot sugarcoat it in any way.’’
He said the country already had enough laws to regulate the media.
‘’That is why all my life I’ve been an advocate of self-regulation. And I have never supported concealment of information. When I was minister of information, at no point did I ever call an editor at ZNBC or Times of Zambia to direct them what to write or publish. In fact, I even told my colleagues in the party, the MMD, never to ask for cameras from ZNBC,’’ said Mwaanga.
‘’There are so many laws on our statutes that regulate the media. So, PS be careful with what you are doing. Otherwise, we can run in a very dangerous territory which can be difficult to come from. We may have leaders in future generations who may want to interpret laws to suit them. And that could further damage our democratic credentials and put the country on fire.”
Apart from Kasolo, all the other discussants were strongly against statutory media regulation.
And members of the audience took Kasolo to task over his constant threats to regulate the media.
Former Zamcom director Oliver Kanene wondered what government interest was in regulating the media.
‘’PS, journalists are already working on a framework to regulate themselves. Even today there was a high-level meeting where we were putting up a document to regulate ourselves. But you still want to go ahead and regulate us. What is your interest in doing that? Why are you insisting on that route?’’ asked Kanene.
Media Liaison Committee chairperson Enock Ngoma asked Kasolo to immediately stop what he was doing and give journalists chance to finish what they were doing.
‘’I humbly plead with you, sir, to stop whatever you are doing on this matter. We are already advanced in preparing a regulatory framework for ourselves. It is our duty to do this, not the government. In fact, we are even coming to see you on Tuesday next week over the same,’’ said Ngoma.
In response, Kasolo who had earlier said the ministry had prepared a regulatory document, later shifted position.
‘’I didn’t say we are going to regulate you. We cannot regulate the media because there are no enough people to do that; we can’t manage,’’ he said
‘’I’m quite happy to hear that you are meeting. The framework we have written is based on your own ZAMEC [Zambian Media Council]. I’m not trying to set up a framework to control journalists. We will write that document and hand it over to you guys so that you can look at it.’’
Kasolo said the proposed media regulation would help protect both media owners and journalists.
“We need a legal framework for self-regulation of the media fraternity. That legal framework will provide statutory support to journalists for instance and it will also support the media owners. How? For the journalists, that regulatory framework would provide means of negotiations for a minimum wage within the institution. It would protect them against bad employers, there are bad employers there in the media industry who misuse and abuse you and pay you peanuts in the name of journalism,” he said.
“On the other hand, the erring journalists, those that put their stations in trouble, at the moment the provision is that IBA will step in and discipline the entire media organisation [but] what we are proposing is that we have this regulatory framework, the regulatory framework, the professional bodies will punish the erring journalist. The IBA will step back because action has already been taken. It will remove the hand of government from taking action under the Act because there is this regulatory framework that is providing an alternative regulator, so it protects other people’s jobs.”
Kasolo also said reporters at ZNBC feared to interview opposition leaders adding that Zambians had stopped watching ZNBC news because they perceived it to be biased.
“ZNBC fear bringing opposition members, yes. I talked to quite a few and they told me, ‘if I bring opposition leaders and I start interviewing them, we finish the interview, a lot of people will label me, people in government will say I’m in opposition, he or she is not with us.’ I said I understand, the only way we can protect these people and make them independent, is by people like myself and the board to back them. I have been talking to the board about this, we need balanced reporting at ZNBC,” he said.
“The reason is that people have stopped believing, it’s a perception, they have stopped believing what ZNBC is saying. They have stopped listening to their news, they are going elsewhere, why? Because they are perceived to be biased and I am trying to cure that. I realise the money we pay as TV levy is wasted, all of us must get a fair share of that by getting them to report fairly.”
Kasolo ZNBC should allow other political players to speak to the people through it.
“…look you have got Sunday Interview, can you do every week a different political party, every four weeks you can rotate. If tomorrow they can get the leader of the FDD to go on fantastic, next week UPND fine, next week NDC or whoever, that is the way forward. I would rather see these opposition politicians being interviewed and let them say what they want to say to the people of Zambia. Let the people of Zambia make the decision,” said Kasolo.
And ActionAid country director Nalucha Ziba said there was no need for regulation of the media as there were enough laws in place to help regulate them.
Ziba said moves to regulate the media were only aimed at shrinking the already encroached media space.
“To start with, as ActionAid, we have the view that we don’t need to regulate the media. Why do we say so? Because the media plays a critical role in democracy and according to Abraham Lincoln, democracy is defined as a government of the people, by the people, through the people. This definition entails that people remain critical in nurturing and deepening democracy,” she said.
“For citizens to undertake one of the foremost role of participation in governance of their country, they need to be an informed citizenry. Therefore, the media in a democracy plays an important role to inform, educate and entertain. The recognition of this important role is also found in the Republican Constitution that is article 20.”
Ziba said media should be left to regulate themselves.
“In terms of what sort of regulation should we be looking at in Zambia, as ActionAid, we are of the view that we need to be looking at self-regulation. The media regulates themselves in line with the ambience, with the various legal provisions already existence in our laws… because of this, we submit that self-regulation which is guided by already existing law should be what is considered,” she said.
“Zambia already has legal provisions that are regulating the media. It’s not like the media are already operating in a vacuum. For instance, the laws of defamation, libel, to ensure freedom of expression is not absolute.”
Ziba said those in the broadcasting industry were already regulated by IBA although some critical media were regulated in a questionable manner.
“In terms of the broadcasting sector, one can argue that the Independent Broadcasting Authority already sufficiently polices the sector. The IBA since its establishment has also taken drastic measures with the closing down or suspension of media houses under very questionable circumstances – one of them is Prime Television. To further aim at statutory regulation is to further want to encroach the work of this sector,” said Ziba.
“Our recommendation is that strengthening of media personnel in terms of media law and ethics should be the direction the government should be looking at. Zambia has sufficient laws to protect the public against irresponsible media. Even in the social media, we believe the same laws of defamation and libel are sufficient to bring about order.”