Chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya has vowed that under her reign as Minister of Information and Broadcasting, she will deliver the Access to Information Bill which her predecessors have failed to pass through Parliament in the past seven years.

And Bridges Limited founder and veteran media trainer Chibamba Kanyama has dismissed the perception that business news doesn’t sell as much as politics, arguing that journalists simply fail to package business news in an appealing and informative way as demanded by consumers.

The two were speaking at the Bloomberg-organised Africa Business Media Innovators conference 2018 being held at the Royal Livingstone in Southern Province Zambia, where more than 90 international media and technology operators, including News Diggers! have been invited for networking discussions with businesses and government leaders, drawn from 21 countries.

In her remarks at a press briefing, Sunday, Siliya who was flanked by Bloomberg co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Emeritus Matthew Winkler, said government was tired of fake news and was eager to deliver the Access to Information Bill.

The Minister, however, demanded that journalists must, in readiness for this law, form a self-regulatory body of association that would enforce news reporting standards and distinguish professionals from citizen journalists.

“As government, I know that the elephant in the room is always the regulatory framework and the Access to Information Bill which I have committed since I became minister about 10 months ago for this ministry that in the next sitting, coming next year, we should be able to pass it through Parliament. The Access to Information Bill has been sitting for I think over seven years going back and forth in terms of discussions between the journalists and government,” Siliya said.

“But also, as government we are pushing the agenda. We must define in Zambia who is a journalist. Is it a profession or is it something that someone can do after they have studied something else? What kind of organization should they belong to? We know in other countries like Kenya and South Africa they have the media council. But in Zambia it’s still very loosely organized, and I have said to the journalists who are still quite resistant of this idea to form this idea that they must belong to some sort of institution.”

She said the media self-regulatory body would help protect journalists.

“It is actually for their own benefit so that they can be protected, not only from their perceived so-called enemy the government, but also the organisations they work in. They journalists need to have the right to report accurately and fairly against the interest of the media owners, which might be about revenue streams. So for me as minister, I am trying to say journalists must be organized and should be well trained. If they come together in numbers, they must be able to regulate themselves and government must not feel this vacuum for many more years to come,” she said.

“So, I am personally committed to ensuring that journalists practice in an environment where they are safe without hindrances. I think the common threat is responsibility. We the politicians get elected and get elected out, its unthinkable that the journalists would have the power they have without some sense of responsibility.”

When asked if she was making a promise that under her reign the Minister would deliver the ATI Bill, unlike other ministers who have merely promised, Siliya said the law was good for government in order to beat fake news.

“There has been a perception among the media practitioners that Access to Information Bill is just about the journalists. It’s about citizens of Zambia; it’s about giving the legal right to every citizen of Zambia to be able to request information from government or quasi-government institutions. So let’s be very clear that it is about the citizens and journalists are beneficiaries because they are citizens as well,” Siliya said.

“Yes, I have committed to providing the Access to Information Bill because it’s about citizens. But it’s also important for journalists to take themselves seriously and say this is our standard and if one of us errors, we will regulate ourselves. I have used the lawyers and doctors that government doesn’t knock on their doors when one of them makes a mistake.”

She said government hoped that once the law is passed, citizens would be encouraged to visit government offices to access facts.

“I can definitely assure you that the Access to Information Bill will come because it’s government that is tired of fake news. We want citizens to be able to walk into our offices so that we can explain to them that ‘this is how things are done’.
For now, citizens don’t think it is possible for them to interact with government in that manner and that is why you hear stories about the national broadcaster being sold to the Chinese, I am not even sure that the Chinese can be interested in our public broadcaster. (Laughter in audience) That is why government is now in a hurry to say, we need this Access to Information Bill so that citizens can have access to information and they will not be cheated,” said Siliya.

Meanwhile, Kanyama encouraged journalists to learn the art of packaging business news in a manner that is understood by consumers.

“The argument that people don’t buy business stories compared to political news is all about packaging. There is a lot that is happening in Zambia on the business side that is not picked. How many people for example know that Focus Financial, for example, has gone under? And if you investigate why it has closed and is insolvent, it’s a big story. We haven’t published it. How many people know that one bank has made 55 million loss for three years in a row. And this last loss is at a time that government institution is a major shareholder in that bank? What are the implications of that to the public? Nobody is reporting that. It’s not a rumour, it was published in the quarterly report, but no one saw that story,” said Kanyama.