ZA returns, marching to the beat of the same drum

It is early days yet for the government to have us start sounding alarm bells about its intention on the Access to Information (ATI) Bill. In his characteristic crusty fashion, Chishimba Kambwili, before he was sacked as Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, suggested that the government would delay tabling the Bill in this current term of parliament because of what he calls unethical reporting by some media institutions.

Granted, the immediate aftermath of the August 11 elections is a testing period for Zambia, given the swirling post-election emotions at play. However, the actions of a few errant media institutions should not be used as an excuse for an over-arching action that affects even those striving for professionalism.

It is cold comfort that the former minister’s statement conveniently ignores the fact that access to information is related to both government’s transparency and citizens’ freedom of expression and right to know. After all, in a democracy, where citizens’ rights are unfettered, the media should be able to access the huge quantities of information that the government creates and holds.

A government U-turn on its stated commitment to tabling the ATI Bill now is not just worrying. It’s also dangerous.  Access to information is a right that is guaranteed by international law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. 

We want to believe that the government’s commitment to enabling freedom of the media and checks and balances is not without good intentions. However, where journalists operate in a cocoon of fear, the result is an ill-informed nation, leading to poorly informed public pressure on the government in power. This is bad for democracy. To quote one Andrei D. Sakharov, “As long as a country has no civil liberty and freedom of information and no independent press, then there exists no effective body of public opinion to control the conduct of government.”

In the immediate post-election period, the issue of media perceptions continues to be an emotive one. There have been recent fears of spurious state action against media institutions that are seen as “anti-Patriotic Front”. We note with dismay the chain of events involving Komboni Radio, Muvi TV, Radio Itezhi Tezhi and Prime TV. Make no mistake – we are for responsible reporting. Media practitioners should certainly be held accountable for their actions if they breach the law. However, this should be done in a fair manner without any political interference and threats to freedom of expression.  Unsurprisingly, several reputable international agencies such as the Freedom House continue to give Zambia a ranking of “not free” where protection of freedom of expression and the media are concerned.

It does not help that the print media is heavily polarised. The Post, for a brief heady period after 1991 the genuine voice of those yearning for an independent and objective newspaper, has keeled over after run-ins with the Zambia Revenue Authority and police. Liquidation has finally spelt the death knell for a newspaper that remained shrill in its anti-Patriotic Front editorial slant. Its clone, The Mast, ostensibly ‘owned’ by the wife of the Post’s publisher, now seeks to fill the void.

The Daily Nation has all but sold its soul to the PF, and occasionally snorts its derision for The Post – the hostility between the two newspapers’ publishers open for all to see. At the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia, acts of self-censorship and praise singing by editors have become a matter of routine for newspapers that, owing to state ownership, unsurprisingly toe the government line. The gap for an independent, non-partisan publication, one that offers a steady fare of incisive and in-depth commentary and analysis, remains a yawning one.

Coverage of the August 11 elections was, for a deeply polarised media, predictable. For the media institutions that assumed pre-determined editorial positions, ‘insult’ and ‘praise’ journalism were clearly evident. There was not much evidence of constructive journalism – writing that cuts through the political demagoguery, in the heated pre-election run up and post-election tensions. Social media platforms also played a divisive role, affording self-interested individuals the anonymity to practise an irritatingly crass form of “journalism”, insults and unwarranted praises their hallmark.

It is against this backdrop that Zambia Analysis re-emerges on the publishing scene after a three-year hiatus. Ours remains a mission that seeks to encapsulate the objective of analysis, offering a fare of articles that we hope are well-researched and balanced. In the main, we shall continue to publish in-depth articles from professionals from all walks of life in key areas such as the economy, politics, health, culture, and sports. Only this time around, we shall remain purely an online publication. That said, we hope we can give you Zambia’s best read.

 

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