Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services acting Permanent Secretary Isaac Chipampe says Zambia’s democratic transformation would have been a “far cry” without the participation of the media.

Speaking during the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Lusaka, Chipampe said the multiplicity of the Zambian news media had moved in tandem with the country’s democratization, and influenced citizens to uphold peace.

“The media plays a critical role in society in that it checks the excesses that may arise among the three arms of government. The media monitors power that may exist economically, coercively, socially, morally and persuasively. This year’s theme, which is a theme for the whole world, indulges in issues to do with the transparency of the political process; the independence of the media; the independence of the judicial system; accountability of the state institutions to the public and how the Judiciary and the media interacts. Bear with me for taking you back to 1990 when Zambia returned to multi-party politics after 17 years of single-party rule. With the exception of the weekly Christian newspaper called The National Mirror, Zambia had no private newspapers and citizens relied mostly on the government newspapers and the Zambia Broadcasting Services, which only transformed itself from a government department into a corporation. Fast forward to today, ladies and gentlemen, you will agree with me that the media’s transformation and evolvement since 1990 has been phenomenal. The multiplicity of the Zambian media has moved in tandem with Zambia’s democratization,” Chipampe said, Thursday.

“This, we should attribute to the burning desire by we the people of Zambia to govern ourselves in a democratic manner. Both the public and private [media], have played a crucial role in fostering transparency, accountability and good governance. Since 1991, we have seen democratic presidential elections held eight times, and the media has been at the centre of ensuring there is a transparent electoral process. Since 1991, we have seen six Republican presidents and they have had their share of the media blitz. Since 1991, we have seen three political parties pass on power to one another; and the media has been monitoring the processes.”

He extoled journalists’ contribution to growing Zambia’s democracy.

“In short ladies and gentlemen, democracy in Zambia would have been a far cry without the media. On this day, therefore, government pays glowing tribute to the men and women, who have made democracy reign. With the multiplicity of newspapers, citizens can decide what publication to read. With several television channels, citizens can decide what to watch. With so many community, commercial, and religious radio stations, citizens can indeed decide what to listen to. Government, through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, has introduced policies and laws to enable the media to operate in an unfettered environment. Conversely, the same policies and laws are aimed at protecting citizens against gutter journalism. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) is one great effort by the government to remove suspicion in the issuance of licenses, but also the IBA is expected to protect citizens from abuse on radio and television,” Chipampe added.

“The Zambian press is not regulated, yet unprofessional acts have been witnessed in both coverage and reporting. It is government’s hope, and that of the people of Zambia that, soon, you ladies and gentlemen, you shall regulate yourselves to bring standards to the profession. Let me end by urging you to set yourselves away from some of the online write-ups we have seen, because you are journalists; and the people who post abuse on social media are not. So, let us not make citizens fail to distinguish between you, the professionals, and them.”

And UNESCO representative Audry Adily stressed the need for information-based society via digital channels and to heighten vigilance to ensure the essential criteria of free access and quality knowledge.

“It is also an opportunity to face new challenges regarding the freedom of online press. Freedom of the press like any other freedom is never completely secure. The development of a knowledge and information-based society via digital channels implies heightened vigilance to ensure the essential criteria of free access and quality. Quality information requires to check sources and select pertinent subjects. Its calls for ethics and an independence of mind. It, thus, depends entirely on the work of journalists. World press Freedom Day is also an opportunity to highlight the crucial role played by this profession in defending and preserving the democratic rule of law. In 2017, 79 journalists were assassinated worldwide, in the exercise of their profession. UNESCO is committed to defending the ethics of journalists and fighting against impunity committed against them. It also contributes to their training and helps the authorities in different countries to adapt their laws on freedom of expression to international standards.”

Meanwhile, journalists spent over three hours waiting for the Angolan President’s motorcade to pass before they could be allowed to commence their march from the Mandahill footbridge to East Park Mall.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was commemorated under the theme: “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law”.