Journalists, CSOs grill Information PS; VJ warns against media regulation
By Staff Reporter
Journalists, civil society organisations and ordinary members of the public on Thursday evening grilled Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo over his incessant threats to regulate the media.
And veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga warned Kasolo that the government risked creating a dictatorship in the country.
Kasolo was one of the speakers at a public discussion organised by News Diggers newspaper and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa at the Lusaka’s Hotel Intercontinental.
Other speakers were Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zambia Chapter national director Austin Kayanda, Press Association of Zambia president Andrew Sakala and ActionAid country director Nalucha Nganga.
When Kasolo told the gathering that the government was going to regulate the media because the latter had failed to regulate themselves, there was an uproar in the room.
One unidentified member of the audience shouted: ‘’Give journalists a chance to regulate themselves! How long has it taken government to enact the [Access to Information] ATI law?’’
As several people murmured and passed running commentaries, former Zamcom director Oliver Kanene stood up to challenge Kasolo’s statement.
‘’PS, are you aware that journalists are already working on a framework to regulate themselves? From the time you started threatening them they have not just sat; they have been busy working on something. Even today there was a high-level meeting where we were putting up a document to regulate ourselves,’’ Kanene explained.
‘’But you still want to go ahead and regulate us. What is your interest in doing that? Why are you insisting on that route?’’
Media Liaison Committee chairperson Enock Ngoma asked Kasolo to immediately stop what he was doing and give journalists chance to finish what they were doing.
‘’I humbly plead with you, sir, to stop whatever you are doing on this matter. We are already advanced in preparing a regulatory framework for ourselves. It is our duty to do this, not the government. In fact, we are even coming to see you on Tuesday next week over the same,’’ said Ngoma.
In response, Kasolo who had earlier said the ministry had prepared a regulatory document, later shifted position.
‘’I didn’t say we are going to regulate you. We cannot regulate the media because there are no enough people to do that; we can’t manage,’’ said Kasolo.
‘’I’m quite happy to hear that you are meeting. The framework we have written is based on your own [Zambian Media Council] ZAMEC. I’m not trying to set up a framework to control journalists. We will write that document and hand it over to you guys so that you can look at it.’’
Apart from Kasolo, all the other speakers strongly opposed statutory media regulation.
And Mwaanga who is also a former editor-in-chief at the State-owned Times of Zambia newspaper, urged Kasolo against regulating the media.
In his submission, Mwaanga warned that such a move would result in State control of the media.
‘’Politicians must be accountable for what they do and say to the public. And that is the job of the media to make them account. So, when you think of regulating the media then you are telling them that they should not check on any excesses from politicians,’’ Mwaanga submitted on Thursday.
‘’I was editor-in-chief at the Times of Zambia, a State-owned newspaper, but we still had editorial independence. And that was a one-party State, but even in a one-party State there was no intention to regulate the media. And the reality is that media regulation is the first step towards control; you cannot sugarcoat it in anyway.’’
He said the country had enough laws already to regulate the media.
‘’That is why all my life I’ve been an advocate of self-regulation. And I have never supported concealment of information. When I was minister of Information at no point did I ever call an editor at ZNBC or Times of Zambia to direct them what to write or publish. In fact, I even told my colleagues in the party, the MMD never to ask for cameras from ZNBC,’’ said Mwaanga.
‘’There are so many laws on our statutes that regulate the media. So, PS be careful with what you are doing. Otherwise, we can run in a very dangerous territory which can be difficult to come from. We may have leaders in future generations who may want to interpret laws to suit them. And that could further damage our democratic credentials and put the country on fire.”