WE are not opposed to media regulation but the state should not get involved in regulating media houses, News Diggers has submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technologies.

And Chipangali PF member of parliament Andrew Lubusha has commended News Diggers for the manner in which they handle complaints relating to some news articles, further describing the media house as professional.

Making a presentation when the media house appeared before the committee, Wednesday, Diggers managing editor Mukosha Funga Njenga submitted that statutory media regulation was unnecessary, given the fact that there were already laws heavily regulating the media and freedom of expression in Zambia.

“Given the fact that we have all these laws heavily regulating freedom of expression in Zambia, further restrictions on social media or statutory media regulation would be unnecessary and disproportionate to the danger actually posed, given the many weapons the system already has within its arsenal. The better way forward is to allow the law and enforcement institutions to take their course, rather than adding more laws to muzzle the free press,” she said.

Njenga said enactment of the Access to Information bill should take precedence over media regulation.

“Access to information must take precedence over media regulation. There is need to enact the ATI bill and also to make a constitutional provision that expressly provides for the right to information. Further, the process to enact the ATI bill should be undertaken transparently. The bill must be shared with stakeholders for input before it is enacted. Gross change to the bill from stakeholders by the state will be deemed as a gross violation of citizens’ rights to have laws that reflect their aspirations,” she said.

And when the chairperson of the Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technologies, Raphael Mabenga, asked whether the media could regulate themselves, Diggers Managing Director Joseph Mwenda responded in the affirmative.

He told the committee that it was the state’s desire to participate in regulating the media which Diggers was against.

“Yes, Chair, indeed we can regulate ourselves. In fact, there are parts of this draft bill which we agree with. We also add that we do not entirely oppose the establishment of media regulation. It is okay to have an institution or body to regulate the media, but the moment it becomes statutory, therein comes a problem. Our challenge is not exactly that we don’t want to be regulated, we would like to be regulated by ourselves. But we have to sit amongst ourselves as journalists to say ‘how are we going to regulate ourselves’? ‘Who is going to be the president of this association, who are going to be members of the board’? Ourselves when we come together, which actually the media liaison committee has already done,” he said.

“So we are saying, once this is established, then we can launch it. But if there are zero incentives, but you are saying the state now has decided that you are going to be regulated, it means that there is going to be state influence in that association, in that council. And the body that is charged with the responsibility to regulate the media now is going to be abused by those who are holding power, those who are in government to advance their cause. Our fear is that if the state gets involved in regulating us the media houses, then they will make sure that at every point when we publish something that they don’t consider as a positive development to their stay in power, then they may actually manipulate the body to revoke our license or indeed to shut us down.”

Mongu Central UPND member of parliament Oliver Amutike asked what other laws would protect politicians and individuals who were defamed if the defamation law was done away with.

“I’m just looking at this law of defamation because everybody wants to get it removed. But sometimes from where I see it, it’s a necessary law to protect people from unwarranted attacks. I’m looking at your newspaper headline for today (yesterday) Diggers for example, which says ‘We didn’t sign a contract that we will employ you after forming government’. And I have spoken to the [UPND] SG, I have spoken to the people you have said you have quoted here and they totally disagree [that] that’s what they said. They are even considering bringing this to your attention. I’m just wondering, if we were to remove this law how [will] some individuals who are misquoted or who are attacked unnecessarily will be able to protect themselves. I just want your comment on this law that you want us to remove, what alternatives are there to protect the politicians and individuals?” he asked.

In response, Mwenda clarified that the media house did not in any way propose the removal of the defamation law, but decriminalisation of the defamation of the President charge.

“We have not in any way suggested or proposed a removal of the law on defamation. What we are actually suggesting is that the civil matter between an individual and another is okay to proceed. Criminal defamation is what we are against. And the reason why we are against criminal defamation is specifically, say for example, defamation of the President, we find this law to be unfair because while you arrest an individual for defamation of the President, that individual can not exercise the same right to sue the President if that individual is defamed. And we do not see how a President can be defamed by an individual and then it becomes a criminal offence. In our view, that should be a civil matter. And that has been our submission to this committee. But we are not proposing a removal of the defamation law. What we are hoping to see is a situation where if a politician is defamed, either by another member of the public or indeed a journalist, that politician should have the privilege to go to court and seek recourse and in the process justice must prevail. But it must not be a criminal offence,” he submitted.

Addressing Amutike’s concern on the newspaper’s headline of February 9, Njenga said Diggers was always ready to stand by what it published.

“There was a question on our headline today, saying that the SG, I’m told, said he did not say what he said. As an institution, we do take all responsibility for what we publish. And whatever we publish, we try to have some sort of proof to that effect and when or if we do make a mistake, we do apologise. So since it’s the SG who we spoke to, he is saying that there was nothing like that and he comes to us, he knows our office. He can come and then we will prove it to him to say ‘here is where you said this’ and provide a recording to that effect,” Njenga said.

And in his contribution, Lubusha commended News Diggers for the manner in which they handled complaints relating to some news articles.

“Mine is just to commend and encourage the News Diggers to continue with the spirit and manner in which they handle complaints as regards some of their news articles. I can attest to this committee that News Diggers is one of the most fair and professional newspapers and I have equally been a victim and I have really appreciated the manner in which they handled my complaint. So I would just like to encourage them to continue with the same spirit,” said Lubusha.

Meanwhile, Lundazi PF member of parliament Brenda Nyirenda asked Njenga to state her opinion on citizen journalism.

“Thank you for a balanced presentation by Diggers. Funga, you are one of the very good journalists who we have had and I’m sure you are really enjoying yourself where you are. What is your comment on citizen journalism? These journalists who are all over Facebook and they are sending information. Because I see that you raised a concern in your presentation where you said that WhatsApp, Facebook and all were blocked on a particular day. What is your comment on these citizen journalists who keep flashing information, unverified information to the nation which may cause alarm?” she asked.

In response, Njenga highlighted some of the positive sides of citizen journalism and insisted that the country had adequate laws to deal with some problematic citizen journalists.

“Firstly, I think citizen journalists are very important in our society because they sometimes tends to be in those places where mainstream journalists are unable to reach or they get there faster. Sometimes they even feed us information. But of course, for the mainstream journalists, we have gone through training, we know the ethics, we know what to do and what not to do. The citizen journalists are untrained so with that, of course, they do run into some trouble. And also with the coming of social media, each and every person with a smartphone has become a citizen journalist because what these phones have done now is that everyone has a craving to just post and update their friends about what’s happening. Sometimes they don’t even realise that what they are flashing out there might interest someone and they will take it as news. Of course on the posting of unverified information, it is of concern. But our argument is that we have adequate laws. ZICTA has the capacity, and they have done this in the past, to fish out people hiding behind fake names on social media. We do not need any extra laws to come now and to further shrink our space to operate because there are enough laws that can deal with those problematic citizen journalists as well,” said Njenga.

In a follow up question, Nyirenda asked, “does the IBA have the power to make you people fail to publish a particular issue or you just submit for the sake of submitting? You don’t wait for them to give an approval?”

In response, Mwenda said the laws that governed the print media were different from those that governed the electronic media.

“Ourselves as newspapers do not fall under IBA. The laws that govern newspapers are different from those that govern other electronic media. As newspapers, we do submit an edition of our newspaper every day to the National Archives, that is a recommendation by law. But it does not mean that we are governed or guided by the National Archives, their institution simply wants to take records of what we have published every day. We cannot speak for the broadcast media but from our understanding, the IBA does not look at the content before it’s published. The media organisations go ahead to publish at will and then a copy of what they broadcast or air on radio is now supposed to be submitted to IBA for their record. But this does not mean that IBA gives permission of what can be published and what cannot be published,” said Mwenda.