At least there is an agreement between the Zambian government and the media on the need for media regulation. How this is to be done and who should do it remains a point of disagreement.

The media has come up with a self-regulation mechanism under the new Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC). This body was born out of wide consultation among the media organisations and institutions operating in the country after government threatened to regulate the media if they did not put their house in order. According to the state, the media is “irresponsible” because it has no regard for government authority. To the state, regulation should be about punishing wrongdoers and insulating political leaders from insults and unfair coverage.

While the media has come so near to establish the Zambia Media Council, its operations remain a far-fetched dream. The constitution is in place, and it clearly stipulates the functions of the ZAMEC in its preamble: “We the Zambian Journalists believe that good faith with the public is the foundation of all worthy journalism. We should be accountable to the public for our reports, and the public should be encouraged to voice any grievances against the media. Open dialogue with our readers, viewers, and listeners should be actively encouraged.”

Contrary to the views of government and its allies, media regulation is about upholding and preserving the bond of natural trust and respect between the public and the media. Experts have further argued that regulation of the media cannot be left to the whims of the state because part of the duty of the media in modern democracies is to provide checks and balances to the government and create an open society. In that way, government can’t take up the role of regulation when it has to be checked by the same media.

The government insists they want an effective tool in place which will address their concerns; in other words, they have not approved the self-regulation route. The media has been through this road under the Media Council of Zambia (MECOZ), and it did not work is the argument they are putting up. The government has chosen to ignore pertinent issues that led to failure of MECOZ – one of which was the issue of non-inclusiveness. Some important institutions, such as The Post Newspapers, a leading private tabloid, and the Catholic Media Services, were not part of the Media Council of Zambia. The significance of the Zambia Media Council is that it has brought all these institutions on board.

The media fraternity after holding a series of meetings that culminated in the “Fringilla Agreement” (named after a farm lodge) attended by all local media bodies and organisations unanimously agreed on the way forward by stating: “We the representatives of various media organisations and media houses, ... do hereby declare that after exhaustive consultations and debate, we agree on the development of a non-statutory, self-regulation framework, leading to the establishment of an all-inclusive Zambia Media Council by 3rd May 2010,” (Public Broadcasting in Africa Series.

The media has arrived but the government insists dialogue should continue so that their concerns are brought on board. These concerns have remained locked up in a distant closet known only by the government itself as they have not been made public. This has heightened fears that once the same government retains political power after the 2011 presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, they will introduce a Statutory Regulation Bill in parliament.

Charles Mafa - Journalist