ACTIONAID Zambia has called on government to expedite the process of enacting the Access to Information Bill.

And the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) has urged government to reverse its decision to reintroduce VAT on newsprint.

In response to a press query, ActionAid country director Nalucha Ziba said as the country joins the rest of the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day, it was important for government to respect its commitment to press freedom.

“ActionAid Zambia will join the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day. 3rd May acts as a reminder to governments of the world and more specifically the Government of Zambia, of their need to respect their commitment to press freedom. ActionAid Zambia is cognizant of government’s improved engagement between the media and the UPND Government and wish to commend the government for this. We hope such actions continue throughout the tenure of the UPND Government and beyond,” she said.

“World Press Freedom Day is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who have lost their lives in the pursuit of a story. To have a functional 4th estate, the press needs to have easy access to information. With easy access to information, the press can convey information on issues that are of significance to the citizens of Zambia and vice versa.”

She said it was sad that government had employed delaying tactics on the enactment of the Assessment to Information Bill.

“For over 20 years, the civil society and the press have been pushing for the enactment of the Access to Information Bill (ATI) in Zambia. The UPND while still in opposition categorically stated [that] they will pass and implement this bill. It is sad that now we see statements from government indicating that they intend to send it across all provinces in the country for consultations. This sadly
seems like delaying tactics in the enactment of this bill. For over 20 years this bill has had nationwide consultations among the citizens, the press and the civil society. In commemoration of this day ActionAid Zambia would like to take the opportunity to beseech government to have an approach of development support communication which has a focus on dialogue in dealing with issues that bring about the change and development of the people of Zambia,” said Ziba.

“Government needs to take time and dialogue with the ATI Coalition on all issues regarding the enactment of this bill to move together and have concerted efforts in the process of enacting this ever so important bill. It is also important to note, that while this bill would very much empower the fourth estate carry out its mandate, this Bill is for the benefit of every Zambian and does not provide for the encroachment of any citizen’s rights to privacy.”

And in a statement, MISA chairperson Fr Barnabas Simatende said there was need for journalists and media houses to embrace new technology in their work.

He said it was unfortunate that new laws that seek to prevent online crimes had impacted the practice of journalism.

“It is also true that journalism is under siege because new laws that seek to prevent online crimes have been enacted and their impact extends to the practice of journalism or media work. These laws are impacting investigative journalism because of provisions that are against interception of communication. The Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act makes it a crime for journalists or media to possess intercepted communication. Whilst the intention of the law is to promote privacy, some corrupt actions including wrong doing is also protected by such a law. This has an effect on journalism’s watchdog role and good governance which the media is supposed to facilitate and protect,” Fr Simatende said.

“Further, the search and seizure in the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act makes journalism susceptible to exposing even sources journalists have pledged anonymity to. This is an ethical media requirement which the cyber law has impacted. Our call is that the cyber law be revised in such sections to enable the media to play its watchdog role and to abide by its ethical requirements.”

Fr Simatende said the reintroduction of VAT on newsprint had negatively impacted the print media.

“Lastly media is under siege due to the continued economic environment that has affected several businesses and in turn advertisement which is the lifeblood of media. Luckily, Zambia just came out of elections and campaign messages circulated through media gave it but a small lease to continue being alive. We therefore are concerned with the reintroduction of the VAT on newsprint which will impact print media that has already suffered lower sales since COVID 19 broke out. We call on government to reverse this tax too and provide incentives for media sustainability instead,” said Fr Simatende.

“Consequently, as we commemorate this year’s World Press Freedom Day, media owners, journalists, the state and academia must forge a new strategy for media to be free from some of the things that have placed it under siege as stated above because media freedom is not only key for democracy and good governance but is vital for development that leaves no one behind. MISA Zambia wishes the nation and every journalist in Zambia and across the world a happy World Press Freedom Day.”