Village TV must come with Access to Information Law

Opening the third session of the 12 National Assembly, President Edgar Lungu took pride in underscoring his government’s achievements with regards connecting the rural population of Zambia to satellite television via the “Village TV” initiative– thanks to China’s aid.

“Mr Speaker, government, with the support of the government of the people’s republic of china, is rolling out a project dubbed, ‘access to satellite television by 10,000 African villages’. Through the project, 500 selected villages in Zambia will be connected to satellite television. This is a further practical benefit of our digital migration programme. The project has already been launched in eastern, Western and Luapula provinces and will be rolled out to the rest of the provinces by March 2019,” said President Lungu.

“For our people, this is not a promissory note. It is already a reality at schools such as Kefulwa, Kabuta and Kanyembo in Luapula province and some selected villages around them. Mr Charles Tembo of Kawaza compound in Sinda district spoke for many when he said and I quote, ‘being able to watch TV in my grass-thatched house is like a dream come true. I am now able to see what is happening in other parts of the country and follow programmes that educate me on modern farming methods and how to improve my yields’, end of quote. This is the kind of empowerment of our citizens that government wants to see by taking information to where our people are. Access to information must and should not be a privilege of a few. It is as much a human right as the right to safe and clean water or affordable health care. We are, indeed, moving towards a smart Zambia.”

We are sorry to pop your bubble Mr President, but there is nothing smart about Zambia and Zambians in the rural areas having access to information which you want them to have and not that which they actually need to have.

Don’t get us wrong; we have nothing against the Village TV initiative. We support this government programme and commend the Chinese government for adding Zambia to the list of 10,000 African village beneficiaries. The exposure that people get from television nowadays is incomparable, it changes people’s views on national and global matters.

But our problem is that President Lungu doesn’t seem to mind the type of information that these villagers will have access to. He feels, as long as villagers have access to such services, then we are moving towards a smart Zambia. No sir! These villagers deserve access to the right information; information which we the journalists must give them. Therefore, give us access to the information we need first, so that we can inform and educate the villagers objectively.

Mr Charles Tembo of Sinda district regarded watching TV in his grass-thatched house as a dream come true because he thinks being able to learn new farming methods is everything. But the real dream come true will be letting Mr Tembo watch from his grass-thatched house, how millions of kwacha meant for his fertilizer were embezzled by the people he voted for. Mr Tembo needs to read from his grass-thatched house how the President’s entourage spends millions of dollars on luxury activities when they travel out of the country – when his village doesn’t have clean drinking water.

When Mr Tembo starts having access to such information, then we will join President Lungu in celebrating a Smart Zambia. Right now, our government is pushing the Village TV initiative in order to feed these villagers the PF-couched political propaganda; they are preparing a generation that will be making misinformed decisions.

Please Honourable Minister of Information; enact the Access to Information Bill, let that be your legacy to the media fraternity in Zambia. Look at the terrific speed at which you are moving to enact the Cyber Security? What about the ATI Bill? If you are such a responsible government that is fully accountable for its deeds, what are you afraid of? We don’t want to use underhand methods to get the information which Mr Tembo in Sinda needs to have, we want a law that protects us when doing so.

The Access to Information Bill is not good for journalists only, it’s good for those in government as well. We feel sorry when we see Honourable Dora Siliya, Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe and State House press aide Amos Chanda sweating to refute stories from the Africa Confidential about Zambia’s debt. But that is because they are denying us access to the real data. We want a law that protects us when we discover that indeed the PF government has been hiding debt and secretly acquiring loans. It cannot be a State secret how much money we owe China. So, if the government doesn’t want to give access to the information journalists need, they will find other means of gathering it and publishing for Mr Tembo in Sinda to read.

So this excitement about the Village TV initiative must challenged by the need to enact the Access to Information Bill. Stop feeding our relatives in the rural area with lies. We must also remind the PF that ignorance is better than false knowledge; it is more dangerous to know very little than to know nothing at all. So this seed of misinformation they are planting in villagers will come back to haunt them when another regime takes control of the television signal.

         

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