INFORMATION and Media Minister Chushi Kasanda says her ministry is in the process of re-submitting the Access to Information Bill to the Ministry of Justice after taking into account stakeholder submissions.

And Kasanda says there has been a worrying escalation in the spread of fake news with the coming of social media.

Meanwhile, Media Liaison Committee chairperson Enock Ngoma has called on government to remove VAT on newspapers as it is crippling most newspaper companies.

Speaking during World Press Freedom Day celebrations, Tuesday, Kasanda, who is also Chief Government Spokesperson, said government had completed incorporating the views received from the stakeholders during consultations.

“The enactment of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill also remains a key priority on our media transformational agenda. As you may recall, ladies and gentlemen, we recently held consultations with stakeholders to review the ATI Bill. We are now in the process of re-submitting the Bill to the Ministry of Justice, having completed incorporating the views we received from the stakeholders during consultations. I therefore urge the media fraternity to make full use of the conducive environment that government is creating to inform, educate and entertain the people effectively and professionally,” she said.

She said there was no excuse for the media to flout ethical and professional standards given the conducive atmosphere which existed under the UPND government.

“There is no excuse, whatsoever, for the media to flout their ethical and professional standards given the conducive atmosphere that now exists for the media to carry out their work freely and without any interference or instruction from anywhere and anyone. As such, government believes that the starting point to promote freedom of media is to promote ethics and professionalism. It is only when the media are ethical and professional that they can truly enjoy their freedom in carrying out their work. Without ethics and professionalism, it is like giving untrained and irresponsible drivers the whole road to himself to drive a car. He will still leave the road and crash, injure and even kill innocent people in the process. So, as the media continues to gain more and more freedom, so should their professional and ethical conduct grow in exercising that freedom responsibly. The media should, therefore, be factual, balanced and objective at all times in their reporting,” Kasanda said.

Kasanda said she would soon hold a meeting with media owners to discuss labour matters.

“While government is aware of the financial stress that the media, like other sectors are going through arising from the effects of COVID-19, we wish to call on media owners to ensure that their staff are subjected to a conducive working environment and conditions of service. With over 100 radio stations, over 50 television stations on air countrywide, as well as several newspapers and other online publications, Zambia’s media industry is growing into a major contributor to job and wealth creation, hence the need for players in the sector to ensure decency in the jobs they are providing to many young people graduating from media institutions around the country, much to our appreciation, as a government. I plan to call a meeting with media owners soon where we can exchange views on the matter,” Kasanda said.

And Kasanda said there had been a worrying escalation in the spread of fake news.

“This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme, “Journalism Under Surveillance”, points to the changing times under which the press operate. With social media connecting more people to accessing information, there has been a worrying escalation in the spread of fake news. We have also seen traditional media, that is newspapers, radio and television, facing competition as online platforms break news, thereby taking away their audience. The theme, therefore, calls for critical reflection on the opportunities and threats posed by technology advances and trends on the media,” said Kasanda.

“As we commemorate this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I am glad to state that we have made significant strides in this regard. We have freed the media to set its own reportorial and editorial agenda. We have also ensured that the media is free from harassment in the course of their duty. Attacks of media houses, especially radio stations which were rife under the previous administration, have disappeared, not by accident, but through our consistent and deliberate efforts to restore the dignity and integrity of the media. The media, both public and private, is now free to feature anyone on their news and other platforms regardless of political affiliation.”

And Ngoma called for the removal of VAT on Newspapers.

“As a media, we underwent several challenges under the previous regime, we have heard this time around, several pronouncements from the current administration with regards to media freedom and development. However, we have not seen much that can give us hope because there was a lot that was promised but has not been fulfilled. As an example, the new dawn government promised to enact the access to information bill into law in the last sitting of Parliament but that has not happened,” said Ngoma.

“Apart from that, we have seen this government reintroduce value added tax VAT on newspapers which was suspended many years ago and yet we know that newspaper already pay VAT on every advert they publish on their magazines, newspapers or on other media. Moreover, the media are constrained by the high cost of production from media products. There is also COVID-19, the pandemic worsened, the situation as most media institutions suspended operations while all those that continued had to lay off some of their workers. Certainly this is not a healthy situation and it does not support media development. We therefore propose that the VAT be removed to enable survival of newspapers. The print media industry is almost crippled by so many taxes and we pray that these taxes can be removed. We believe that the media too should be given the same incentives given to other sectors.”