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 2010-04-27 05:35 pm Back to NEWS
Zambian govt wants to curtail media independence MISA

MEDIA Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) regional director Kaitira Kandjii has said the Zambian government's insistence on a statutory media self-regulation mechanism is a strategy to curtail media independence and freedom in Zambia.

Kandjii stated yesterday that MISA was deeply concerned at the Zambian government's attempt to impose a statutory media council and calls upon the Zambian media to form a united front in rejecting this move.

She stated that government's insistence on a statutory media self-regulation mechanism was inappropriate, unnecessary and aimed at nothing but controlling the media.

"This stunt by government is in bad faith and a strategy to curtail media independence and freedom in Zambia. It is unacceptable and gravely worrying that government should seek to impose its will and overturn the Fringilla Consensus on what self-regulatory system best suits the media," she stated.

Kandjii stated that the Zambian media had made credible effort to develop a mechanism to regulate themselves under difficult circumstances, characterised by unending threats.

She stated that at a minimum, government had a duty to support, but not to impose and jeopardise this process.

"Voluntary, non-statutory media councils are the recommended form of media regulation under international law, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights," she stated. "The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights states that "Effective self- regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media."

Kandjii stated that on the contrary, statutory media regulation was prone to abuse and political interference.

She stated that MISA found it disturbing that the Zambian government keeps changing positions.

Kandjii further stated that as recent as January, the government through information minister Ronnie Shikapwasha, supported the efforts of the Media Liaison Committee (MLC), in its efforts to establish a voluntary media regulatory framework, that was industry driven and non statutory. She stated that this turn around by the government was unfortunate and raised suspicion.

Kandjii stated that MISA was left to wonder what the true intensions of the government had been all along.

"We are left to question if the government was ever genuine in its call for the media to regulate itself, or had long taken a stand on statutory regulation.

This suspicion is not without base given the consistent threats over setting up the media council in the last year. The last threat was a media council by 31 December, 2009 or government would set up one. Earlier, government threatened not to pass the Freedom of Information Act unless media set up a functioning self-regulatory framework, even if the two were not related," she stated.

She stated that the Kenyan model of statutory self-regulation, which was favoured by the government, was not an option for Zambia.

"A statutory regulatory mechanism in whatever shape, will undermine Article 20 of the Zambian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, including media freedom. It is seriously worrying that government should look to Kenya. The Kenyan media environment is a suppressed one, with the media operating under the shadow of draconian laws.

The conditions that led to the statutory media council in Kenya in 2007 are well documented and ironically reminiscent of the current situation in Zambia, that of a government having difficulties with a watchful, assertive and forceful media," she stated. "Statutory regulation in all its forms should have no place in a fledgling democratic nation like Zambia".

Kandjii called for an end to this government circus.

"The minister's tone in the letter of 13th April addressed to the MLC chairperson, Mr Henry Kabwe, and sent to the National Conference on Media Self-Regulation, in which he expressed preference for the draconian, Kenyan Statutory model of self-regulation, was unfortunate. His comparison of Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) to the disbanded Media Council of Zambia (MECOZ) is lame. By all accounts ZAMEC is not MECOZ," she stated.

She called on the Zambian government to review its stance on statutory Regulation as it was not an option for Zambia.

Kandjii stated that the MISA regional secretariat commended the work of the MLC, for its commitment in developing a voluntary self-regulation mechanism through the formation of ZAMEC, in the interest of fostering a professional, responsible and ethical media in Zambia.

She stated that MISA offered its undivided support and endorsed the launch of ZAMEC scheduled for May 3, on the World Press Freedom Day.

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