Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Don’t ban media from covering NCC deliberations – PAZA

Don’t ban media from covering NCC deliberations – PAZA
Written by Chibaula Silwamba and Allan Mulenga
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 11:18:55 AM

PRESS Association of Zambia (PAZA) president Andrew Sakala has challenged the NCC not to ban the media from covering its deliberations because the constitution making process is for the people.

And Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia chapter chairperson Henry Kabwe has urged the NCC delegates to take their work seriously as it was being funded by taxpayers' money. Commenting on the suggestion by the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) to consider banning journalists from covering their proceedings due to what they term as misrepresentation, Sakala said the constitution-making process ought to be public.

"The media must be allowed to cover the public process. I know that the Act allows not just the media but even members of the public to sit in and listen to the deliberations," Sakala said. "I think if there is a problem with the media, if the media is indeed misrepresenting the deliberations there, I think the solution is that an individual media institution must change the person who is covering the NCC."

He said PAZA was against the barring of media institutions from covering the proceedings.

Sakala said not all Zambians could go and listen to the deliberations at Mulungushi International Conference Centre.

He said those who could not travel to Lusaka to listen to the deliberations in person, depend on the media to know what their representatives were discussing in the NCC.

"The constitution-making process is the public process until such a time when they declare that this session will be held in camera. But when you are making the constitution, the constitution is the public document and the media and other members of the public should be allowed to sit in," Sakala said.

"If a particular committee of the NCC feel that they are being misrepresented, the onus is on the NCC publicity committee to put up the right information. As PAZA we are against any such kind of thing where you ban the media."

Sakala said the media were the window, ear and eye of the public.

"If there is a problem with the media, deal with each individual media institution because we don't believe that if for instance there are five media representatives covering a specific committee or indeed the entire NCC, all of them will get it wrong. I don't think that is possible," Sakala said. "The NCC cannot make a blanket decision to ban everyone from covering the NCC deliberations because the constitution is about the people. Hopefully the NCC has not made that decision already. That decision should not be made. People should know what their representatives are discussing."

And Kabwe said the delegates to the NCC should put the people's interests first because the constitution was for Zambians.

Kabwe said it was necessary for the media to cover the sittings of the NCC.

"It is very unfortunate that the people who we have entrusted with the powers to come up with the constitution have already started showing bad attitude towards the media by scheming ways of banning journalists from covering their proceedings," he said. "We expect the NCC members to lead by example in promoting media law reforms because they are there to represent us [media bodies]. But with the recent debates we have been hearing from NCC, we are worried that even the media law reforms will not be included in the constitution."

Kabwe said the NCC delegates were on that body on behalf of all Zambians.

"What they should know is that they are there to represent the people and they only put in the constitution what the people are saying because they are doing all that using tax payers' monies," he said.

Kabwe hoped that NCC members would change their attitude towards the media and allow journalists to cover their proceedings without undue influence.

On Monday, the executive committee of the NCC considered banning journalists from covering its proceedings following what it termed as misrepresentation of facts by some media organisations.

The debate comes in the wake of Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) trustee Mtumbi Goma's complaint that he was misquoted by a Daily Mail reporter during matters arising from last week's minutes. Goma claimed that the reporter quoted him as having said the Speaker of the National Assembly should take over the country in an event that the presidential election result is nullified and yet he proposed that Cabinet take over.

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