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No Need for Further Media Regulation

 

I write in response to a recent *Times of Zambia* article in which Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha is quoted as having said that the government will go ahead and regulate the media ifpractitioners decide not to come up with self-regulation after the six-month ultimatum it has imposed on them.

I have found it hard to understand why Ronnie Shikapwasha, George Kunda and other Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) leaders have continued to advocate for additional legislation designed to regulate the media. There is really no need for the kind of legislation which the government is contemplating. What the government needs to do is to operationalize the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in order for the broadcasting media to be regulated by an independent body, and to enact the Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill and make it possible for journalists to access information that is vital to both the media and members of the public.

Passage of legislation relating to freedom of information and the operationalization of the IBA would, accordingly, be accompanied by rules and regulations by which media institutions would be expected to operate.Among the functions of the IBA, for example, would be to promote broadcasting standards and codes of ethics and practice.

Besides, existing laws and regulations provide the necessary checks and limitations on the operations of media institutions in the country. The *Penal Code* (introduced in 1931 and amended in 1990), for example, defines the following as criminal offences: sedition and defamation (Chapter 191),defamation of the President (Chapter 69), and defamation of foreign princes and the publication of false news that incites fear or violence or damages the national security of the country (Chapter 67).

Other pieces of legislation which provide additional regulation of media operations in Zambia include the following: the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Act (1987), National Broadcasting Corporation (Amendment) Act(2002), Theatres and Cinematography Exhibition Act (1929), Criminal Procedure Code Act (1933), Radio Communications Act (1994), Printed Publications Act(1994), Information and Communications Technologies Act (2009), and Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (2009 ).

Moreover, the existence of the seemingly politically correct Media Council Of Zambia (MECOZ) established in 2004 provides another reason why legislation sought by the government is irrelevant. As affirmed in its constitution, MECOZ’s role is to function as a voluntary self-regulatory body for journalists, and through which members of the public can submit their complaints and grievances against the media. MECOZ has also formulated a code of ethics to assist journalists to defend the principles of freedom of the press and information.

So, the mere fact that countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya and Botswana have pieces of legislation specifically designed to regulate the operations of the media is not a good enough reason to introduce such legislation in Zambia.

If comrade Shikapwasha and his fellow MMD leaders are really serious about introducing legislation designed to regulate the media in spite of what I have discussed above, then they should spearhead the drafting of a regulatory framework for media self-regulation. This should be an obvious expectation considering the fact that the ruling party and its government“own” and control the largest segment of the news media in Zambia which are operated nationwide.

Although ZANIS, ZNBC, *Times of Zambia *and the *Zambia Daily Mail* are on the mailing list for this comment, there is no doubt in my mind that Shikapwasha, Kunda and other MMD leaders will not have the opportunity toread it due to the fact that these public media institutions on which they depend for their news are not permitted to cover stories that are not in defence or praise of the MMD, President Banda and/or his administration.

Henry Kyambalesa