Who should lead IBA?

The Media Liaison Committee says the appointment of Mabel Mung’omba, a non-media person, as chairperson of the IBA Board is disappointing and an affront to efforts to professionalise the media industry.

Chairperson Enock Ngoma says they were displeased with the appointment of non-media persons to head one of the sensitive and important media regulatory bodies, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, as its board chairperson and vice chairperson respectively.

“The appointment of Ms Mabel Mung’omba, a non-media person as chairperson of the IBA Board, to preside over matters of media regulation and media sustenance, 54 years after independence, is disappointing and an affront to efforts to professionalise the media industry,” says Ngoma.

We have a different view on this matter. A media background is not necessary for one to be appointed to the Independent Broadcasting Authority board. One doesn’t need to have a media or journalism background to appreciate the value of an independent media.

What should worry us is one’s record in defending media freedom and that of expression and speech.

What worries us most is that Ms Mung’omba doesn’t seem to have any discernible record on this score.

A free media is indispensable in a democratic society. The government should not be allowed to interfere with what people say or write. Provided they do not break the law, everyone should be able to say and write whatever they want.

Media freedom is an integral part of freedom of expression.

Everyone should be able to say or write whatever they want, provided they do not break the law. Defamation and inciting to hatred and discrimination are forbidden. The courts should decide after the event whether someone has broken the law.

Public and commercial broadcasters should have editorial independence, which means that they are responsible for the form and content of their programmes. The government should not interfere. Broadcasters should decide for themselves what they will broadcast on radio, TV and the internet.

There’s need to protect the media from being co-opted by ill-intentioned political actors.

We all need to speak out against illiberal tactics. False assertions aimed at damaging legitimate journalism – including claims that the media are biased or part of the opposition, or that independent journalism and articles uncovering wrongdoing present a security threat – are often accepted at face value.

We should all stay on alert for such illiberal tactics. There’s need to carefully research false claims, and use their findings to refute them.

We should all continue to speak out against laws, practices, and rhetoric that negatively impact media freedom.

Media outlets that suffer from systemic problems – such as the deep intertwining of political and economic interests – are particularly vulnerable to illiberal co-optation.

There’s also need to counter the strategic use of lawsuits and regulatory action against media. Political leaders are increasingly abusing laws and relying on hostile decisions by regulatory authorities to silence and intimidate investigative journalists and other critics. But it is not just an illiberal tactic – strategic lawsuits against public participation are becoming a widespread tool to silence critical voices.

We should also monitor decisions implemented by media regulators to ensure that media freedoms are not being squelched through hostile technical means.

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