Thursday, July 14, 2011

LAZ and the abuse of ZNBC

LAZ and the abuse of ZNBC
By The Post
Thu 14 July 2011, 14:00 CAT

“If you get more stubborn every time you are corrected, one day you will be crushed and never recover” (Proverbs 29:1). This is a biblical teaching we should not lose sight of.

And we can further add: “When the king is concerned with justice, the nation will be strong, but when he is only concerned with money, he will ruin his country” (Proverbs 29:4); “A ruler without good sense will be a cruel tyrant. One who hates dishonesty will rule a long time” (Proverbs 28:16); “Admit when you are wrong, and you avoid embarrassment” (Sirach 20:4).

We state all these things in the light of the observations made by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) on the operations of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).

LAZ observed with growing concern that the news and coverage of national affairs by ZNBC was unbalanced and skewed towards coverage of the opinions and activities of the ruling MMD to the exclusion of other stakeholders whose opinions are not given the requisite coverage.

LAZ, in addition, also observed that ZNBC has aired libel and slander in its news and current affairs without respect for the right of persons who are the subject of the publication to respond.

LAZ concluded that the manner in which ZNBC was airing news and current affairs was in complete conflict and contrary to the provisions of the ZNBC Act which requires the corporation to provide varied and balanced programming; to broadcast comprehensive, unbiased and independent news and current affairs; to clearly distinguish what is news and what is commentary; to serve the public rather than partisan interests; to meet high professional quality standards; to contribute to the development of free and informed opinions and as such, constitute an important element of the democratic process; to reflect as comprehensively as possible, the range of political and philosophical opinions; to reflect and promote Zambia’s diversity and unity; to contribute to the tolerance of different opinions and beliefs; and to defend democratic freedoms.

LAZ’s observations are shared by the great majority of our people. One doesn’t need to be a lawyer to see that ZNBC has departed in a very big way from the requirements of the ZNBC Act. Of course, the political appointees running ZNBC have tried to defend the indefensible things they are doing and denounce LAZ’s observations.

The best Eddy Mupeso, the director general of ZNBC, could have done is to keep quiet. We all know the desperate situation Mupeso was in before he was given this job after the closure of the National Mirror where he was working. This is the worst we have seen ZNBC in more than 20 years.

Even the ZNBC of the one party state which the Press Association of Zambia complained about and took to court over its poor and biased coverage was better than this.

Instead of addressing the issues raised by LAZ, Ronnie Shikapwasha decided to personalise issues and attack Musa Mwenye, the LAZ president, accusing him of belonging to opposition PF.

We all know that Musa doesn’t belong to PF and the lawyers who elected him president of their association are not fools. Who doesn’t know that they tried to sponsor a candidate to be LAZ president and the great majority of lawyers rejected their candidate? Even if Musa was a member of PF, that still wouldn’t be wrong.

As long as the decisions of LAZ are legally sound, that wouldn’t be much a problem. Of course, there is no law that stops the president of LAZ from belonging to any political party of his choice. It is clear to us that even when George Kunda was the president of LAZ, he was a member or sympathiser of the MMD that he is today. But can it be said that George was a bad LAZ president?

No. Actually, George was a good LAZ president. And the decisions of LAZ are not made by one person – they are made by many people, as LAZ honorary secretary Paulman Chungu has explained. It will not help the MMD to try and smear Musa and his executive with the filth of belonging to the opposition. Musa and his colleagues are acting within the requirements of the LAZ Act.

And among other things, the LAZ Act requires Musa and his colleagues to further the development of law as an instrument of social order and social justice and as an essential element in the growth of society; to provide a means by which all lawyers, whatever their particular field of activity, can participate together fully and effectively in the development of society and its institutions; to encourage lawyers as individuals to join actively in the life of, and identify themselves with, the people, and to utilise their skills and training in their service; to seek the advancement of the rule of law and of the rights and liberties of the individual.

The observations made by LAZ on the operations of ZNBC are clearly in pursuance of the objects for which LAZ was established as reflected in Section 4 of the LAZ Act.

Many of our people have today stopped watching ZNBC television because of its political bias towards the MMD and its leadership.

What the management of ZNBC should realise is that the supporters of MMD in the country are in the minority. The majority of our people belong to the opposition. If you add up all the votes that go to the opposition, you will realise that they are more than the votes that the MMD receive.

Here, what we have is minority rule – the majority is in the opposition, and not the ruling party. Therefore, to run ZNBC as if this was a one party state is a serious error of judgement on the part of ZNBC management and its political backers.

And as we have stated before, the practices at ZNBC are not different from those at the state owned Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail. They are all being managed and run as if they were departments or the private property of the MMD.

Mupeso knows this but he will never be honest enough to acknowledge it. But if there is a change of government today, Mupeso will tell the truth about the political pressure that he had to endure to keep his job. Probably Mupeso also knows that his job at ZNBC depends on the continued stay in power of the MMD.

If the MMD loses this year’s elections, Mupeso will also lose his job. And so will the editors and other top managers of the Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and ZNBC itself. These are MMD cadres which any new government will find very difficult to keep. But we can only hope that this is the last time these state media institutions will be run on such partisan lines.

If there will be a change of government this year, the new ruling party should not be allowed to do what the MMD is doing with the state-owned media. And we would urge the media associations and other formations that represent media workers in these institutions to look at things in a broader and more progressive way.

We urge them to revisit the position PAZA had taken in 1991 when they demanded the removal of the editors and managers who they thought were UNIP cadres and such were carrying out the political agenda of the then ruling party. We don’t know why they are today very quiet on these issues.

LAZ has shown the way. Why can’t they join LAZ in ensuring that the people of Zambia get the best out of their ownership of ZNBC, Times of Zambia and the Zambia Daily Mail as PAZA did in 1991?

There are no false claims Musa is making. The one who is making false claims is Shikapwasha himself. Shikapwasha has proved himself to be a shameless liar.

Shikapwasha has never hesitated to tell a lie to keep his job. Musa is not a liar. And Shikapwasha cannot prove his claims about Musa being a member of PF or being partisan in any way.

As for the other scoundrels they are using to malign Musa, we can only say that there is no decent person who can offer himself to say the things they are saying, to tell the lies they are telling. Only these scoundrels can do such things.

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