MINISTRY of Information and Media permanent secretary Kennedy Kalunga says government will facilitate the establishment of a media self-regulatory framework and enactment of legislation on access to information.

Speaking during a stakeholder validation meeting on Access to Information, Thursday, Kalunga said the new dawn government was committed to media freedom as long as the media was responsible and accountable for what they do.

“The quest to have the access to information law enacted was reaffirmed by the His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia Mr. Hakainde Hichilema in his inauguration speech, in which he reiterated the fact that press freedom is an important component in the fight against corruption and exposing human rights abuse. He re-echoed this in his maiden speech for the ceremonial opening of the 1st session of the 13th National Assembly on Friday 13th September 2021 to the effect that as part of improving the governance environment, the new dawn government would enhance media freedom and access to information by facilitating the establishment of a media self-regulatory framework and enacting legislation on the access to information,” he said.

“You may be aware that Zambia has never had legislation specifically to support access to information by the citizen or the media practitioners on public affairs. In this day and age, the absence of the law has led to an increase in the peddling of fake news and information about public service or public officials of all ranks and files. It is, therefore important that such a law be formulated or enacted in Zambia. The new dawn government, therefore is committed to media freedom as long as the media is responsible and accountable to what they do. Those who own or run media establishments should not use the media to abuse the rights of other citizens by disrespecting them in the media and not giving them an opportunity to be heard.”

Kalunga said developing countries like Zambia should accept access to information as a fundamental human right.

“Access to information is not unique to Zambian because it is a fundamental human right and precondition to transparency and accountability in the public sector. Given this fundamental right to information, governments have a duty to provide access to information to achieve good governance. Developing countries like Zambia must accept access to information as a fundamental human right. Citizens’ access to information facilitates understanding of the decision making process, contributing to transparency and accountability in the public sector. Information empowers people to demand their rights to participate and improve realization of the economic, social and cultural rights and by extension, promote transparency,” he said.

“According to one of the transparency international annual reports: Information opens doors of mutual trust between citizens and their government. When the state conducts business and makes decisions behind closed doors, it creates distrust and a space in which impunity can thrive. When the citizens are denied information held by the state, they are denied their right as voters and taxpayers to hold their government to account, properly participate in the political process and make informed decisions. Therefore, the information is the basis for the strength of the government-citizen relations.”

Kalunga said once the bill becomes law, it would empower citizens with knowledge to demand for quality services and hold government accountable.

“The issue of access to information is not our only initiative as a country but is a requirement by the international protocol to which we are part. It is, therefore, expected that once the bill becomes law, it will empower the citizens with knowledge to demand for quality services, hold government accountable for the corrupt practices around and development projects as well as advocate for a meaningful progress,” he said.

At the same event, Open Space Chief of Party Teldah Mawarire said they were excited to have reached the implementation stage of access to information.

“PANOS is implementing the project which is advocating the freedom of expression and the right to know. It is an historical moment where civil society is seeing light. It’s been almost twenty years since the advocacy started, going around the access to information. This is a turning point for the country, access to information is for everybody. This is a good representation to those representing religious, children’s rights, women’s rights. Those living with disability, those working in democracy and governance. This speaks to the importance of the information, information that is credible and that is accessible, information that enables democracy. Access to information is a proactive way of ensuring that when information is out there, it is accessible for anyone to use it and a possible way to react to misinformation and disinformation. Information is not for media players only but information is also one way to bridge the gap between those who are working on civil and political rights and those who work in humanitarian rights. We are excited that we have reached the implementation stage of access to information,” said Mawarire.