We are a naturally a dictatorial society and bringing in the foreign system of democracy is a real challenge, says Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo.
And Kasolo says putting pressure on his team to rescind the Independent Broadcasting Authority’s (IBA) decision of suspending Prime TV will not work under his reign.
Meanwhile, Kasolo says the IBA is toothless when it comes to regulating ZNBC because the national broadcaster does not operate under the same Act as other electronic media.
The Permanent Secretary has further warned that his Ministry will soon start regulating journalists in Zambia because a lot of media practitioners are unqualified.
Speaking when he featured on 5Fm’s Burning Issue programme, Thursday, Kasolo complained that it was unrealistic for people to expect ZNBC, as a national broadcaster to give equal coverage to government and the opposition, saying Zambia was a dictatorial society.
“One of my passions is to try and turn ZNBC into what it was before. Everybody wished to work for ZNBC. I know we have put in quite a lot of money into ZNBC’s digital migration US $273 million, and all sorts of things coming up still under ZNBC under that digital migration. However, the quality of reporting, the quality of reading, the quality of dressing during TV presentation must all come out. We have got to be the best and we have got to take the lead. But again, ZNBC must allow the opposition space. They must even take pictures of opposition rallies and so on. Being a government leading media, you have to do a little bit of balance. But even BBC is not in the middle; they are leaning towards the government of the day, but they still give coverage to the opposition. So, this is something that we can achieve over time. It is difficult in our society because democracy does not come easy. We are a naturally dictatorial society [and] so to bring in this foreign system of democracy is a real challenge,” Kasolo said.
He added that IBA had no mandate to regulate ZNBC.
“IBA goes back a long way, as far back as 2002. The first Act regulated all media houses but during the MMD rule, they amended the IBA Act to move out ZNBC. So now what happens is that we can’t go to ZNBC and say ‘come on, we are monitoring you and we don’t like what you said here and you are biased on this’ we can’t because they are not in the Act. That is a fact… in fact, IBA is absolutely toothless when it comes to ZNBC. The only way we can go and look at ZNBC is if an individual or groups of individuals complain about a particular programme or a particular news bulletin. When they complain then we can ask them to give us the data for 90 days and we can look at it and make a decision,” he said.
And Kasolo said no amount of public pressure would push his Ministry to lift Prime TV’s suspension, saying if Prime TV goes to court it will waste it’s money.
“Please! Distinguish between IBA and PF, not all professionals working under IBA are PF. We have got almost all political parties represented under IBA. Prime TV can come back, and can come back stronger by just doing what they have been asked to. This issue of trying to put pressure on my team to say: ‘reinstate or change what’ will not happen, not under my clock! So, I proposed that we concentrate on retraining their staff and put in things like cleaning up and so on so that when they come back, they will be very strong and will have a lot of sympathy because of what has happened to them,” Kasolo said.
“If they (Prime TV) want to test it (the 30-day suspension) in the court of law, they are welcome. But what will happen most likely is that they’ll say ‘look, the statute gives it’ and so I am not breaking any law. If the statute says ‘I cannot be [IBA] chair, then they have a point. So, they have the freedom to go to the court if they wish, but my advice is I think they will be wasting their money.”
He also charged that the three Church mother bodies namely the ZCCB, EFC, and CCZ had turned into “semi politicians.”
“The three mother bodies, I am shocked! And I am Catholic! I am shocked that they actually kept quiet on some of the relevant issues that have been happening of late, for example, there was an outcry on the Lusaka Hustle (TV show) about issues of homosexuality, not a word, not even a whisper from the three mother bodies, quiet! I thought that that is really in their heart and they must comment on this [because] it’s a morality issue, it’s a religious issue and they didn’t say anything! Now this one, which is fairly a political issue, they come out. I wonder if the three [church] mother bodies are semi-politicians. I am not a politician and so they shouldn’t come with politics to me,” he said.
He also argued that some NGOs lashed out at government because they only wanted to please their pay masters.
“Some of these NGOs, I know they are paid money for speaking [and] maybe that’s why they are speaking so that they can get more money from their sponsors, but don’t interfere in IBA work [because] this is government work done professionally. If you want to question it, come to us, have a look at what we have done and then comment. Commenting without information is a fool’s game! They don’t even know that we were very lenient on the 30 days’ [suspension] because others wanted six months, but I, as chairman, ruled the 30 days,” Kasolo argued.
The Permanent Secretary further said as the chief executive of the Ministry, he would grant permission to ZNBC to start covering opposition leaders.
“I was just discussing with my Honourable Minister (Dora Siliya) that, everybody thinks that ZNBC is government because maybe the staff [as ZNBC] are scared of bringing the opposition on the programmes. So, I, as the chief executive of the Ministry, will have to write to them to give them permission to bring these people on! I don’t see why we can’t have, for instance, Honourable Mwanakatwe or Siliya interviewed by Gravazio on Sunday, and then the following week we get one of the opposition, whichever it is, and bring them on and they also get interviewed. I think that is the good way forward. So, I will make sure that this starts happening. I don’t want ZNBC to be seen as a biased media. I want it to be a truly Zambian, nationalistic media house. They should promote everything that deals with moving Zambia forward and includes bringing some opposition so as to bring a little bit of balance or views that are expressed. So, we are going to encourage them to start covering opposition events,” Kasolo said.
Meanwhile, Kasolo said his Ministry would soon start regulating journalists.
“We need an association’ just like LAZ is for the lawyers, just like CIMA, ACCA, etc. I cannot go and call myself a chartered accountant if I am not a member of that association of chartered accountants; I cannot call myself a lawyer unless I am registered with LAZ as such. So, this is what I have decided with my Honourable Minister; that we want to regulate because the journalists themselves have failed! So, we have written a draft of how this should be and we have the guidelines and we are still working on that. It will give guidelines as to who can be called a journalist? It will give guidelines to the minimum qualifications of a journalist. We will legislate it into law so that when anyone outside says: ‘I am a journalist’ and they are not, this association can prosecute them and make them stop passing off as a journalist! I want journalists to be highly qualified in this country and compete with those we see on CNN, BBC, the Times in England and so on,” argued Kasolo.