Zambian politicians must be forgiven for thinking that statutory media regulation is the answer to perceived differences between the state and the private media.
As clearly noted by the OSCE media Self-Regulation Guidebook “neither good laws nor ethics will ever satisfy the public about what the media do. The free media – even the quality media upset those targeted by its fact finding, by its opinions and simply by being pluralistic.”
The view advanced in some quarters of society is that many media houses and journalists behave irresponsibly. In fact, a February 2010 news report in The Post Newspaper quoted one NCC member, the commissioner of a district council, as saying, “The media today is quite dangerous. It is only today that we have certain print media publishing words like ‘idiot’, foolish towards fellow human beings or even the Head of State. I'm not saying it's all the media, but one groundnut can destroy the goodness of the other groundnuts. We need to provide safety measures.” (The Post, “NCC abandons Mung’omba recommendation on press freedom”. 21 February 2010).
Enacting repressive laws that inhibit the growth of the media industry is not a solution in itself but a recipe for further differences. It should be noted that the media professionals are better placed to formulate minimum principles on ethics, accuracy, personal rights and so on, while preserving editorial rights on what to report and what opinions to express. Self – regulation is an assurance to uphold dialogue with the public.
The current situation in Zambia where there are no constitutional guarantees to access to information frustrates the work of journalists. Freedom of Information Bill was brought before the national assembly but later withdrawn for further consultation – it is not clear whom the government are consulting! The media personal are in the dark as to what is happening with the Bill. Journalists need this Bill to access information from government, unearth corruption and expose wrong doing.
The current initiative by the media to put in place a self–regulation framework through the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) is the right way to go. The two main objectives of ZAMEC as listed in its constitution are to “promote, preserve and defend freedom of expression, the press and allied forms of public communication” and to improve journalistic practice for practitioners from across the media industry – including both print and broadcast.” The ZAMEC constitution sets up a voluntary, self – regulation for all Zambian media.
Self regulation is not meant to lessen the existing tension between Journalists and the politicians. Through the code of ethics the media will make public the rights, functions and provide guiding principles on how best to exercise their profession. The public and the politicians must accept that freedom of expression means in the words of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), “the right to shock, disturb and offend.” The media helps to make freedom of expression not only enjoyable but tolerable. Self – regulation is one way we can achieve that.
The National Assembly has commenced sitting and we are keeping our eyes on the ground to hear whether the government is resolved to by the statutory self regulation.
Charles Mafa - Journalist