Saturday, January 17, 2009

Self-regulation is non-negotiable for us, charges Kabwela

Self-regulation is non-negotiable for us, charges Kabwela
Written by Maluba Jere, Constance Matongo and Agness Changala
Sunday, January 18, 2009 6:20:22 AM

SELF-regulation is non-negotiable for us, Press Freedom Committee of The Post (PFC) chairperson Chansa Kabwela has said.

And Radio Icengelo station manager Father Frank Bwalya has said President Rupiah Banda's address during the opening of Parliament on Friday was devoid of good news for the media. Meanwhile, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia has said that the media's ethical conduct cannot be enforced under statutory regulation because it is the watchdog of the three arms of government.

Commenting on President Rupiah Banda's statement when he officially the third session of the 10th National Assembly that his administration believes in media self-regulation but urged media houses to join Media Ethics Council (MECOZ), Kabwela said the PFC would not be coerced into submission over the matter.

She said it was unfortunate that President Banda was calling for self-regulation of the media and at the same time asking the media to join MECOZ without exception.

“It's a pity that instead of making strides towards enhancing an enabling environment for journalists, we are going backwards in terms of media law reforms,” she said. “There is no way the same government can say it supports media self-regulation and at the same time force media houses to join MECOZ. Forcing the media to join MECOZ amounts to regulation. The moment threats are applied, it becomes regulation so us, in the PFC, will not do that.”

Kabwela also said it was disturbing that President Banda could stand on the floor of Parliament and blackmail the media on the issue of self-regulation.

“That statement by the President is itself an attempt to regulate the media,” she said. “We don't need to belong to MECOZ because we always regulate ourselves on a daily basis. We get a lot of information, stories and even letters and we try as much as possible to pick from what we have and that in itself is regulation. If the government is truly committed to self-regulation by the media, then joining MECOZ should be voluntary.”

Kabwela also stressed that people's right to information, was unavoidable. She explained that it was only proper access to information that paved way for debate on national matters and enhance accountability and transparency in a democracy.

Kabwela further said there could be no meaningful decision making if the public was not given sufficient information adding that the media needed an enabling legal environment to operate effectively.

“Yes freedom comes with a price but as the PFC, we want to believe that journalists are responsible, effective and professional enough to work without being regulated,” Kabwela said. “We know that we are accountable and socially responsible to the people.”

Kabwela also called on all Zambians to join the media in fighting for better law reforms. She said a free press was not only a political imperative but also essential for economic life.

“We feel we have tried to regulate ourselves even in times when we have misrepresented someone, we have never hesitated to apologise and that in itself is self-regulation,” Kabwela said. “We have enough laws in the country that people can use if aggrieved by the work of the media. So, those are the ways we can use.”

She also said those proposing media regulation 'indirectly through MECOZ' should know that regulating the media would affect the end users of information obtained by journalists, saying they would not be getting adequate information to make informed decisions.

And Fr Bwalya said he expected President Banda to make progressive pronouncements on the media regarding critical outstanding and long overdue issues such the implementation of ZNBC Amendment Act number 20 of 2002, the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act number 17 of 2002 and the enacting of the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI).

“These are issues that are very critical in making progress towards a desirable media legal environment. Moreover, these are tenets of democracy that should serve as a litmus test for our young democracy,” he said.

Fr Bwalya regretted to note that the government had clearly lacked political will to move the country forward regarding these critical media law reforms.

“From the way the President spoke, it is clear that his government is unlikely to pluck up political will and do the right thing. As such, I call upon President Banda to prove that he is a progressive and democratic President by addressing the critical media issues that we have been wrestling with for many years,” he said.

Fr Bwalya said it would be difficult for anyone to believe that President Banda was serious with fighting corruption if he did not commit himself to enacting the FoI.

“Corruption today is going unnoticed and in some cases noticed but not reported due to the absence of a legal framework to obtain vital information about the operations of public institutions where corruption and outright theft is rampant,” Fr Bwalya said. “I therefore challenge President Banda to show his government's commitment to good governance by enacting the FoI and implementing the ZNBC Amendment Act number 20 of 2002 and IBA Act number 17 of 2002.”

Father Bwalya however said if President Banda fails to enact the media laws, then he should forget about leaving a legacy as far as the media and progressive Zambians are concerned.

On President Banda's statement that the government would regulate the media if some media organisations did not subscribe to MECOZ, Fr Bwalya said the President needed to be advised that it was fallacious to think of regulating the media on that basis.

“The President needs to be made to understand that government cannot force any media organisation to subscribe to MECOZ because it is a voluntary self-regulating body. However, it is desirable that all media organisations belong to MECOZ but those that choose not to belong cannot be forced by anyone and this is part of democracy,” he said.

Fr Bwalya said Zambia had adequate laws to deal with erring media organisations and practitioners. He welcomed the pronouncement that the government would review radio licensing procedures to enable electronic media expand coverage.

“But we expect concrete and honest steps towards the realisation of this seemingly promising announcement. Already, there are media organisations, both radio and television, that have been fighting to extend their coverage areas,” he said.

Fr Bwalya hoped that applications for extending media coverage would soon be granted.

“I look forward to watching MUVI TV in Kitwe and listening to some Lusaka-based radio stations,” said Fr Bwalya. “If government fails to move in this direction soon, one thing will be clear, that the announcement was made to divert attention from government's failures in the area of media law reform. The onus is on President Banda to prove his sincerity on this issue.”

And MISA Zambia chairperson Henry Kabwe said the media provided checks and balances on the three arms of the government. He said statutory regulation of the media might be used to hamper the media's role as a watchdog.

“However, unlike any other profession, the media's ethical conduct cannot be enforced under statutory regulation because the media is the watchdog of the three arms of government,” he said.

Kabwe, however, called on all media institutions in Zambia to heed to the call by President Banda to ensure that they fell under one voluntary but non-statutory media ethics regulatory body so as to make the profession more dignified.

He said as things stood, the media sector's disunity and lack of common ground where media ethics and professionalism were concerned had sent wrong messages to Zambians.

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