A stormy journey through media regulation in Zambia

FOR all its flaws, Kenneth Kaunda’s one-party state did not push so much for media regulation, if indeed they did, as have done his successors.
Perhaps it could be contended that there were very few private media outlets that time than there are now.
The major private publication the country had was the church-run weekly newspaper the National Mirror. This was first called the Mirror at inception in 1973 but was renamed the National Mirror in 1986.
The newspaper was co-run by a Catholic body, the Zambia Episcopal Conference and the Christian Council of Zambia, an umbrella body for protestant churches.

In terms of independent information, it was augmented by a local language magazine, Icengelo, published in Bemba and run by the Catholic Church. Up until the height of the push for a return to multipartism in about 1990, the major daily newspapers were the government-owned Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail.
Yet, both of these newspapers, together with the public broadcaster – the Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS), could strongly criticise ministers in Dr Kaunda’s cabinet. The ZBS was later in 1987 transformed into a corporation, namely the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, as it is called today. It was only at the height of the push for a change of government in early 1991 that two more privately-owned newspapers were born namely the Weekly Express and the Weekly Post, which later became The Post.
But, even then, the Kaunda administration did not preoccupy itself with regulating the media, although they had every reason to do that. Having controlled everything in the country since November 1973 when the country was declared a one-party state, Dr Kaunda and his team should have certainly been too sensitive to the criticism brought about by the two private newspapers, but they never were. Additionally, they never advocated statutory media regulation.

While the Weekly Post was co-owned by the country’s celebrated journalist now turned politician Dr Fred M’membe and others at inception, the Weekly Express was solely owned by Professor Higgins Chewe, a strong proponent of multipartism. And the two newspapers put pressure on the Kaunda administration, especially the Weekly Post which immediately embarked on investigative journalism. Further they helped the new movement, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) get reasonable and fair coverage. The government owned news media outlets then could not give the MMD fair coverage.
It is clear then that the push for media regulation became prominent when the country reverted to multipartism after the MMD defeated Dr Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP). The MMD-led government under then president Frederick Chiluba liberalised the media industry, which has resulted in the establishment of privately-owned radio and television stations and newspapers.
The heat that Dr Kaunda’s administration received from the Weekly Post was turned onto the new government two years later. And realising the power of a free media, Chiluba and his team began pushing for media regulation as will be explained later in this article. Journalists on the other hand were pushing for more free space.
In 1993, government appointed a Media Reform Committee (MRC) led by veteran journalist Robby Makayi. And one key recommendation the Committee made in its draft report was that it opposed the formation of a Media Council or any other statutory body to regulate the media. The Committee, however, recognised the need for professionalism in the media industry so as to make journalists morally accountable to their readers, viewers and listeners. Hence, the MRC recommended that journalists regulated themselves by strengthening already existing associations such as the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) and the Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ).
But in its final report, the MRC recommended that a Press Council of Zambia be established to protect the public and media practitioners. The Committee further held that the Council could have its origin in an Act of Parliament with powers to censure. The Committee further recommended that the Council was to be led by a retired judge with interest and experience in media issues. Membership was to be drawn from members of the public as well as professional representatives.

On sustainability, the MRC recommended that the Council would be funded through membership subscriptions, donations, and contributions from media organisations. Again, the government never implemented any of the MRC’s recommendations.
Typical of any stubborn African government, the Chiluba administration decided to introduce its own media regulatory body in 1995, the Media Association of Zambia (MAZ). But this initiative was fought viciously by journalists in a law suit filed by celebrated University of Zambia Mass Communications lecturer, Professor Francis Kasoma. In this matter, Prof Kasoma, the late, represented himself and other media associations. He therefore requested the Lusaka High Court to quash the decision by the Executive to enact MAZ.
In his legal suit, Prof Kasoma raised the following grounds:
· that the creation of the association would adversely affect the applicants;
· that the Executive acted unfairly by making the decision without giving the applicants a hearing on the matter;
· that the applicants who were to be affected by the decision had a legitimate expectation to be heard on the matter and had not been accorded an opportunity to be heard;
· that the decision to constitute an association was not made in furtherance of the ideals of freedom of expression, press freedom and freedom of assembly and association; and
· that the decision to create the association was made in bad faith, in that the objective was not to further good journalism, but rather to bring journalists under government control.
And prior to the delivery of judgment on the matter, Chiluba told Parliament in his address on January 17, 1997 that his government intended to formulate a bill to legislate the Media Council of Zambia (MECOZ). The announcement provoked a sharp reaction from the media fraternity. And to fight the introduction of that bill, the Media Liaison Committee (MLC) was formed; comprising five members namely PAZA, ZUJ, Zambia Media Women’s Association (ZAMWA), Zambia Independent Media Association (ZIMA) – now Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and the Zambian section of the Commonwealth Press Union.
The MLC put up a sustained awareness programme through symposia and mass protests to sensitise the public on the dangers of such a bill once enacted. Consequently, the government withdrew the Bill on April 15, 1997. The minister of Information at the time, David Mpamba, acknowledged the heat the bill had raised in the country. But the MLC did not trust the government on this move, citing it as a ploy to hoodwink journalists.
On August 22 the same year, the High Court ruled against government in the Kasoma vs Attorney General matter. Then High Court Commissioner, later turned judge, Anthony Nyangulu argued, among other things, that the consequences of implementing the Media Council of Zambia without consulting interested parties, was to deprive the applicants – in this case media bodies – the benefit they enjoyed to constitute themselves into PAZA and regulate their own affairs.
He further noted that since the applicants were to be affected by the formation of the Media Council of Zambia, the rules of natural justice dictated that they were entitled to be heard before the decision was taken. Further, he observed that the Council was intended to constrict media freedom and freedom of expression.
Encouraged by the court judgment, media practitioners continued to meet and made a lot of consultations for the next five years to chat the way forward. Eventually, on November 29, 2002, the media fraternity launched MECOZ. The guest of honour, then information minister Newstead Zimba, described the moment as a clear watershed in the revolution of journalism in the country. MECOZ was meant to self-regulate and promote ethical journalism, among other key objectives.
MECOZ was formally launched in Lusaka on July 11, 2004, chaired by retired judge Kabazo Chanda. Other members were chieftainess Chiawa as deputy chairperson, Elias Chipimo Jr, Edem Djokotoe, Father Ignatius Mwebe, Sharon Mwalongo and Fackson Banda.
MECOZ, however, did not function effectively. It went moribund after several in-house squabbles. Most members noticed a shift from its objectives when certain individuals clandestinely colluded with the government to undermine others in the media fraternity. In 2008, MECOZ was disbanded after most key members pulled out.
And in 2009, the government increased threats to regulate journalists, arguing that they had failed to regulate themselves. With the attacks spearheaded by then vice-president George Kunda, the government formulated a bill to regulate the media. Kunda as a senior lawyer would constantly argue, especially in parliament, that the media had been invaded by what he termed “quacks”.

One of the key negative highlights of that bill was its provision for the minister of Information to appoint and approve editors in both private and public media houses. It also provided for prison sentences of not less than three years for erring journalists. But, again, journalists revived the MLC and mobilised public support against that draconian bill. With an increased membership, the MLC launched the Zambian Media Council (ZAMEC) in July 2009.
With similar objectives as MECOZ, ZAMEC gave hope to many journalists. It consequently neutralised the government’s resolve to regulate journalists. It was to be a self-regulatory voluntary body, with full funding from membership subscriptions. A National Governing Council was appointed chaired by late eminent medical practitioner, Dr Manasseh Phiri. A seed money of K75, 000 was to come from members to kick-start ZAMEC’s operations.
It was therefore resolved that the big five in the media industry were to contribute K10,000 each while the rest would be contributed by other members. The so-called big five comprised ZNBC, Times of Zambia, The Post, Zambia Daily Mail, and the Zambia News and Information Services. However, none of the members contributed a single penny, resulting in the ineffectiveness of ZAMEC. Further, the government pulled the public media institutions out of ZAMEC as a fight back. Additionally, ZAMEC failed because it was voluntary, therefore, it could not compel any media house to observe ethics.
Recently, the government has been issuing threats again to regulate the media if they did not regulate themselves. Specifically, such threats have come through information minister Dora Siliya and her permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo. Kasolo extended his threat further by giving the media three months in which to regulate themselves, or the State would do it. While he has been threatening, journalists under the auspices of the media’s supreme body – the MLC, have been refining the ZAMEC document in preparation for a general conference slated for May 9-10 this year.
On April 8 this year, the committee met Kasolo at his office and briefed him about the work they doing. It was a somewhat friendly meeting that resulted in the permanent secretary cancelling the ultimatum he had given. Whether he was playing politics or not, the committee has remained grateful that he gave them space to do the work.
The conference, dubbed Media Indaba or Insaka in the Zambian context, shall gather 250 delegates from all media houses, associations and trade union movements across the country. The MLC formed a technical committee that has been meeting at MISA Zambia offices the last one and half months to prepare for the Insaka. The venue for the conference is Golden Peacock Hotel on Kasangula Road in Lusaka’s Olympia Extension residential area.
The technical committee has invited two international experts who each will give a presentation on the various forms of media regulation. The committee has also invited four local experts to share on the history of media regulation in Zambia, challenges and the way forward.
As we draw near to the conference, there is a lot expected from every participant. It must be understood, though, that the media are resolved on self-regulation. This has two dimensions: voluntary and statutory self-regulation. The latter requires journalists to formulate their own document and ask Parliament to enact it for them. The document should be locked through a clause that only allows members to repeal or amend it at an Annual General Meeting.

Nevertheless, the preferred model will be decided by the delegates. For now, journalists look forward to the conference and hope that this time the war with government now and in future will be over.

It is shocking that while politicians have failed to regulate their slippery mouths, they have been adamant on regulating journalists. Yet, it is them who in fact require more regulation, especially with the fake promises they make to voters every day.
Could it be fear of exposure and criticism in a world of wicked politics? Your answer could be mine as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *