Press Association of Zambia president Andrew Sakala says government should not use dress code restriction for journalists as a deterrence to cover news.

Sakala told News Diggers! in an interview that the new dress code rules set for all journalists covering state functions and the President at the airport are strange because the rationale behind it could not be understood.

But Zambia Union of Broadcasters and other Information Disseminators (ZUBID) secretary general Andrew Mpandamwike described government’s decision as “progressive.”

In a memo dated May 18, 2018, and addressed to ZANIS, ZNBC, Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia, and NAIS, acting Permanent Secretary, Beaton Kaluba, announced that no journalist dressed informally or inappropriately would be allowed to cover state functions.

Kaluba also stated that photographers and cameramen would only be required to stand on a provided-for raised platform at the airport when doing their work.

“I write to inform you that all journalists will with immediate effect be required to dress appropriately during state functions. I therefore urge you to ensure that all members of staff are formally and appropriately dressed. It has been decided that appropriate attire should either be dark suits and ties, national dress or any other formal attire when covering state functions. Any journalist clad in jeans, slacks, tights, minis, topless attires or any attire inappropriate for the function will be turned away by security,” Kaluba stated in the memo.

“Further note that no camera person or photographer will be allowed to breach the security cordon that will be in place at the airport or state functions. Your camera persons and photographers will also be required to stand on a raised platform, where provided, as not one will be allowed to follow the president, visiting Head of State or any other dignitary. You are therefore urged to advise your staff accordingly.”

But Sakala described the rules as “strange”, and that government had gone too far to even prescribe what colours news reporters should wear.

“I don’t think there should be a specific type of dress, but what should be there is that people should be decently dressed. As a person reporting, I think a person should be decently-dressed, according to what is acceptable by a news organisation. And I don’t see how that should affect coverage of the news sources. So, if they restrict on the dress code, that’s very strange. It’s the first time I have heard that. It’s very strange that people should wear dark suits and ties, why? And when they say, ‘national attire,’ does Zambia have a national attire? What is national attire? Is it women wrapping Chitenge like they are going for kitchen parties or what? It is very relative to define what is smart or national attire,” Sakala said.

He wondered what offence was there in one wearing bright colours.

“I think that they cannot prescribe even what colours one should wear. What if I want to wear a white suit, what happens? Or if I want to wear a red suit, what happens? I think let’s not be subjective, if someone wants to wear a bright coloured suit, that’s not an offence. What we only require is to wear something, which looks presentable to the public,” Sakala insisted.

And he said it is wrong for government to dictate where and how journalists should film or take pictures.

“If those people are moving, surely you can’t restrict people from following unless it’s an event where they are sitting like at a press conference, yes, you can draw a perimeter and say, ‘photographers should not go beyond that,’ but if someone is moving, how do you film when you are stationary? So, you can’t say the person who films should be stationary unless the person being filmed is also stationary. The truth is that I don’t understand this rationale,” wondered Sakala.

“What we would appeal to government, whoever has issued those regulations, to reconsider those instructions and ensure that there is minimal restrictions to journalists when doing their work. All sorts of restrictions, including dress code, should not be used as a restriction to coverage of anything. And if they are going to talk about the dress code, they should leave that to employers.”

But Mpandamwike supported the move and said it was high time journalists were given a standard on how to dress.

“That, for me, is even long overdue. I think especially at the airport, it’s always important that you wear media kits as long as the people that are setting up the platform have the background of the filming, they know the best angle. It’s important because then you bring sanity, unlike the current situation where people just push each other like you don’t know what you are doing. In most countries [that] I have travelled to, that is what they do. They provide where to get the best pictures from and there is a lot of order there, so for me, that I support at the airport,” Mpandamwike said in a separate interview.

He said it was important that journalists were “smartly” dressed when coving state functions.

“I think it’s important that when you go to state functions, you must be smartly dressed and not look like you are covering football or you are covering a national geographic [assignment] where you are in the bush or maybe you are covering something at State House like State House dinners, and someone is wearing a short. So, I think this is coming because people become careless, and they don’t really care about how they are dressing. It’s important that you must be dressed smartly because you are meeting VIPs there,” said Mpandamwike.

“For me, what I would encourage is a desk for journalists that are stationed, for instance, at State House permanently there because then it becomes easy for them to understand these things, unlike the current situation where when there is a state function, each media house will send whoever they will send. It’s better to get accredited people working at State House because those will understand the dress code there and why they have to dress smart. I think it’s very progressive for me.”