INFORMATION minister Dora Siliya has observed that the media in Zambia, both under private and public ownership, is currently so polarised such that there is an impression that “some media houses are in fact just extensions of political parties.”
Siliya says her job is not to shut down media houses or to hinder media business development.
Meanwhile, Mast newspaper ombudsman (ethics editor) Ernest Chanda has told Siliya that Zambian journalists are enthusiastic to re-develop a self-regulatory mechanism by May 10 this year.
Speaking when she toured The Mast newspaper head office in Lusaka on Friday, Siliya indicated that her ministry was keen on encouraging the development of the journalism profession in the country.
The minister was accompanied by her ministry’s director of press and media development Isaac Chipampe.
“This is why we are encouraging that journalists must fight for their space because now with online media, we have seen the challenge and the threat to the good practice of journalism. It is up to this profession to fight for its space, to set the standards like other professions have done so that when one of you makes a mistake, it’s yourselves that should say ‘this is not how it is done,’” Siliya said.
“But now there is a vacuum which sometimes forces people to call for government to regulate the media. But we are being very resistant and saying ‘no! When a doctor does a bad job, it is the doctors that say ‘you are not doing the right job, you are not qualified.’ When a lawyer does a bad job, it is lawyers who say ‘this is not how it is done’. The teachers have done the same! The Zambia Public Relations Practitioners have approached us that they also want legal backing so that among themselves they can say ‘you are not doing the right thing.’”
Siliya said it was in journalists’ interest for them to come together and set minimum standards for a journalist.
“You must be able to say ‘if you don’t meet this standard of training, then you are not one of us’. Whether you are a blog, The Mast, Diggers, Daily Mail, ZNBC, or Prime TV, there must be a standard. Government is quite reluctant to regulate the practice of the craft of journalism, unless we are forced to, unless this vacuum continues then we’ll be forced to say clearly there is failure of leadership for people to come together,” she said.
“At [this] point, it is so polarised in terms of public and private media and in terms of supporters of the party in government and against government. This is the problem because an impression has been created that some media houses are, in fact, just extensions of political parties. Perception might not be a reality but it is an issue that has to be addressed.”
The minister said journalists ought to redeem their profession for it to earn public respect and admiration as a “decent profession.”
“It is not a profession that people get into because they have failed everywhere else! You have to fight for the profession that actually this is a decent profession of people who have to provide an opinion for a society where there are doctors, lawyers, engineers, marketeers. Journalists must be some of the most intelligent people!” she said.
Siliya also pointed out that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services was responsible for development of all media in the country.
[The ministry is not] not for ZNBC, Times of Zambia or the Daily Mail development but for all media development in this country, be it radio, television, newspapers, online,” she explained.
“All media in Zambia, whether they are private or public, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is responsible to encourage media as a business in this country.”
She said it was important that the government encouraged the development of private media in the country.
“Whether it is The Mast, Prime TV, Diamond…we want to encourage the development of all these media houses in Zambia as businesses because they create jobs and wealth and of course, you pay the taxes that government needs,” Siliya underscored.
“My job is not to shut down media houses or hamper media business development in this country. There are rules in life and let us follow those rules. We’ll provide guidance but I do not want, in our time, to be the ones to be said we’ve completely withdrawn licences of media houses. We want to avoid that! That’s why we want to work with you (the media in general) so that there is mutual benefit; government wants to be heard, the media want to be heard and the public wants to be heard.”
And the minister highlighted the ‘massive’ progress in media development in Zambia.
“The IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) has now registered over 120 radio stations, televisions stations are close to 50 and we have about 10 newspapers. This is healthy!” Siliya said.
“The media development in this country has happened so quickly! There is also a lot of threats from new technology and the challenge is how we are going to embrace the new technology. It is not just unique to Zambia – every country is challenged with new media.”
On the access to information bill which was approved, in principle, by Cabinet recently and expected to be tabled in Parliament at the next sitting in June this year, Siliya explained that it was a legal framework of government to communicate.
“That is our communication strategy! There’s been a misunderstanding that the access to information bill is about journalists. No! It is about government communicating through an organised manner so that when you pick up a phone to call any ministry, there should be no excuse that the minister is not here, the PS (permanent secretary) is not here or the director is not here,” she indicated.
“The law will require that government provides information in a systematic manner. When any citizen, whether a journalist or not, should be able to request for information as provided for by the law. That law will provide what information should be proactively released by government, what information should be released, when and where and by who, what should be released today, what should be delayed and what information is not for public consumption.”
She further noted that the government owed the citizens the right to follow what it was doing.
Meanwhile, Chanda, on media regulation, told the minister a steering committee representing all the media houses in the country had been formed.
He revealed that the steering committee was working towards a media indaba where “we are expected to have about 250 people from all media houses and associations across the country.”
“This will be held in Lusaka on 9th and 10th of May this year. What we are doing is that we are looking at the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) document and we are saying that let’s refine this document and re-develop a mechanism where we are going to regulate ourselves, a mechanism that will compel all of us to bring in ethics in our operation,” explained Chanda.
“I can promise you that once that is done and validated by stakeholders, it will help some of the obvious complaints [against the journalism profession]. We’ll continue to operate as professionals! In short, we are very grateful that you have given us space, as a ministry, to re-look at ourselves and re-develop a self-regulatory mechanism. Come 10th May this year, we’ll have a document that we’ll proudly look at and say we developed it as journalists and we are regulating ourselves.”