THE Socialist Party has pledged to remove all constraints on press freedom when it forms government.
In his message to this year’s World Press Freedom Day which is being commemorated today, party president Fred M’membe adds that a free press is important to development and democracy.
“Given the importance of a credible free press to both development and democracy, the Socialist Party in government will remove all constraints on press freedom, and create a more favourable financial, economic and political environment for the media to survive and prosper,” he says. “The Socialist Party has consistently reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of the media, as a guarantor of freedom of expression. The Socialist Party will continue to work with and support various institutions to help them make good on their individual and collective commitments.”
He adds that a free and responsible media is the foundation of a successful nation.
Dr M’membe emphasised that an independent media is essential even for enhancing freedom of expression.
“Today, May 3, 2021, is a day to recognise the essential contribution of journalists and journalism to national and international efforts to achieve justice, equity peace, democracy and diversity,” Dr M’membe said. “A free and responsible media is the foundation of any successful nation, and a precursor for social and economic progress and sustainable development. Social and economic development, science and technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, all of these rely on the ideas and new ways of working brought to us by an independent media.”
He explained that media freedom and governance are “not mutually exclusive principles, rather they are mutually dependent”.
“Only when journalists are given the space to operate freely – to observe, ask questions and report, without fear of arbitrary reprisal – can a nation be confident that decision-makers will be held to the highest standards,” he said. “And only then can we truly be on the path of building a more just, more fair and more humane society, world.”
He explained how societies depend on free media in addition to other sectors.
Also citing times of conflict and peace, Dr M’membe highlighted the role the media plays in informing society and lobbying with authorities.
“Just as democratic institutions rely on the Third Sector, composed of charities and NGOs who defend the rights of the poor and weak groups, so too do they depend on a responsible, ethically-minded Fourth Estate, made up of well-trained, fair-minded and professional journalists,” Dr M’membe he said. “At times of conflict, unrest and disaster, journalists are often the first to risk their lives to provide vital information and identify where humanitarian assistance is needed most. In times of peace, journalists act as messengers, educators and advocates, putting the people’s concerns to the powerful and allowing voters to make informed decisions about who should represent them in office. The democratic and development dividend created by a free and responsible media is highest when we respect and value the contribution that journalists make.”
He bemoaned continued attacks on the media saying they are “proliferating”.
Dr M’membe noted that most of the attacks come
in form of violence against independent journalists.
“Those in power also attempt to assert control over media outlets, even if it means shutting them down. Zambia needs traditional, independent, media to hold the powerful to account,” he said. “Where independent media is silenced, coerced, or captured, the public has few options for gaining any information beyond the narratives pushed by those in power and special interests. Social-media platforms can play a role, but their main strength – their democratic nature – also has a fatal flaw. They have proved ideal for spreading fake news, which taints public debate and erodes trust in both facts and institutions.”
And Dr M’membe noted that “appetite for fake news is a threat to healthy independent media”.
He said while social media has become popular, it has on the other hand been used to convey fake news.
Dr M’membe called for the promotion of an independent traditional media.
“While social-media platforms get a lot of attention for their speed and accessibility, a credible free press – one which does not simply parrot the official line of governments or special interests, but rather seeks the truth – remains essential to strengthening accountability in places where it can often be hard to find,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Dr M’membe bemoaned the consequences of poor funding to independent media.
“Chronic underfunding squeezes independent media further. Journalists not only lack resources to support their work, they are often so poorly compensated that they become vulnerable to corruption themselves. ‘Brown envelope, transport refund journalism’ – when reporters are paid by individuals or organisations to publish favourable stories – is becoming increasingly commonplace. If traditional independent media are going to fulfil their essential role, they need resources,” said Dr M’membe.