Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Banning the media from NCC

Banning the media from NCC
Written by Editor

It appears that Zambians have entrusted wrong people to make their national constitution. We say this because some of the pronouncements and recommendations coming from some men and women sitting on the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) are hair-raising and causing goose pimples. In the recent past, there has been debate in the media on the quality of recommendations coming from some NCC committees.

Many people have observed that it will be a sheer waste of money and time if these NCC commissioners do not change their approach to the conference’s deliberations. It is clear that most NCC delegates, especially those in politics, seem to tailor the contents of the constitution according to their desires and aspirations, not according to the wishes of the people.

This debate has arisen because the media brought these contentious issues to the attention of the public. It is this exposure that has unsettled some of these selfish and greedy politicians who now seek to ban the media from playing its national and patriotic role.

It does not make sense that if one reporter from the Zambia Daily Mail or Muvi TV or indeed The Post makes a mistake, then all media organisations must be banned from covering NCC proceedings. Why should a mistake of one media institution affect the operations of other media organisations? And is banning the media the answer or solution? If a mistake has been made, why not deal with that mistake and the media organisation involved so that corrective measures can be instituted?

Like other professionals, journalists make mistakes from time to time in the course of their duty because they are not perfect human beings. And when this occurs, measures are swiftly put in place to ensure that necessary corrections and apologies are made.

So instead of dreaming of banning the media for their own selfish reasons, these NCC commissioners should endeavour to ensure a good working relationship with the media so that the nation can be appropriately informed on this important national issue.

That said, we are not in any way endorsing this retrogressive and wishful thinking from some NCC delegates that the media should be permanently excluded from covering NCC proceedings. We wonder if some of these NCC commissioners are even familiar with the law governing their operations.

Why should the media be stopped from informing the public when the law mandates the NCC to inform members of the public through print and electronic media?

The NCC Act, Number 19 of 2007 in article 19, provides:

“The meetings of the Conference shall be held in public and may be attended by any member of the public and for that purpose the chairperson shall ensure the orderly conduct of members of the public in attendance: Provided that nothing in this section shall preclude the members of from holding deliberations in private or camera if the circumstances so warrant.”

Article 20(1) further states:

“Save as may be provided for in the regulations, the Conference shall publicise its deliberations or avail a record of the proceedings of any meeting through the print and electronic media or the Gazette. (2) The Conference shall, for the purpose of subsection (1), consult the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and other broadcasting stations and radio stations licensed under the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Act or the Radio Communications Act, as the case may be, in order to secure suitable arrangements for the – (a) allocation of airtime and space for purposes of disseminating the deliberations of the Conference through the electronic media; and (b) provision of a sign language insert or subtitles in all television programmes aired for purposes of paragraph (a), civic educational programmes and in all other programmes covering the deliberations and adoption process.”

This is the law. And this is how NCC is expected to conduct its proceedings by law. If the media is banned from NCC, how will this particular aspect of the law be implemented? Do these NCC commissioners advocating the banning of the media from NCC proceedings understand why this law was put in place?

The constitution is a national document, which has to be approved by all citizens, through their representatives, before it is finally made into law. Without the participation and approval of citizens, the constitution will lack legitimacy and therefore be alien to people’s aspirations.

So the media is the mirror reflecting NCC proceedings to members of the public so that they can follow what their representatives are doing. In case they do not agree with their representatives, it is easier for members of the public to make interventions or contribute to that debate when the NCC proceedings are in the public domain. How will this be done if the media are banned from covering NCC proceedings? In whose interest are these commissioners sitting if they do not want the public to know what they are doing in NCC? Is this the people-driven constitution expected to stand the test of time?

You see, politicians are more concerned with self-preservation than national interest. Most of them are pushing personal agendas in NCC, nothing to do with national interest! They are busy scheming how they are going to protect their political prostitution by ensuring that the law protects them whenever they decide to defect to another party for personal benefits and favours. We are hearing some of the weirdest recommendations from some committees.

These are the type of recommendations they want to make in the absence of the media. Like we have stated before, we repeat our call on all Zambians to stand up and get involved in this constitution-making process. Leaving this process to these commissioners, some of whom do not even deserve to be there, will spell doom for the nation because most of them were appointed on a patronage basis. They are sitting on the NCC not to serve the people of Zambia but the selfish interests of those who put them there.

We cannot afford, as a country, not to have a stable constitution. Let this time be utilised by all Zambians to come up with a legitimate constitution that will stand the test of time. If these NCC commissioners want to impose their wishes and aspirations on the people, this constitution will be as good as null and void. And at an appropriate time, the people will give themselves a constitution that they will gladly embrace and accept to guide their way of doing things.

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