When we look at the manner in which the Patriotic Front is governing Zambia, we feel sorry for them more than the people whom they are trying to punish with their authoritarian rule. It is very clear that the declarations they are signing, the laws they are making are not for them, but for the people they are governing. There is a danger to this.
We laugh when we see MMD leaders, Mr Felix Mutati, Pastor Nevers Mumba and others complain about police brutality, the abuse of the Public Order Act and the lawlessness among ruling party cadres. We laugh because these people were in government, in Cabinet and in Parliament. They had a chance to repeal the draconian Public Order Act, restore professionalism in the police service and end the thuggery among party cadres, but they did nothing about it. They enjoyed their time in office and never cared about what people outside government were complaining about. They thrived on laws which clamped down the opposition freedoms, not knowing that they were future opposition leaders. Now they find themselves on the opposite side of the political divide and they can’t stand what karma is serving them.
Before forming government, the Patriotic Front bitterly complained about the same thing that the MMD was enjoying. They were getting zero news coverage from public media institutions. In fact, they were getting a lot, but negative publicity. The MMD government worked with specific journalists who maligned the Patriotic Front and its leaders every day. We recall that when they finally ascended to power, with a lot of help from the private media, the PF government’s first order of business under Michael Sata was to fire the journalists who fought them while in opposition. They said they stood for a free press, preaching that journalists needed to operate freely without being influenced by those in power.
Eight years later, the Patriotic Front has changed its complexion like a chameleon. They hate to see private media giving unfettered coverage to the opposition political parties. They have created a law meant to regulate journalists and their institutions. They want to control the list of journalists whom they will consider as qualified in Zambia, and issuing them with practicing licences. They want the power to dictate what content the media produces and the authority to punish those who will defy their set out rules and disqualify practicing journalists by revoking their licences.
As if they are ruling complete dunderheads who can’t reason, the Patriotic Front has the audacity of placing conditions that if you want the Access to Information Bill enacted, the media must first submit to statutory ‘self’ media regulation. Where has that come from? This is completely against the provisions of the PF manifesto which is supposed to guide how they govern Zambia.
At first, we were told that the Access to Information Bill is for the general public and not the media, but now, the language from the same mouths in the same ministry has changed. They are making media regulation a prerequisite to enacting the Access to Information Bill.
“As a prerequisite to the enactment of the Access to Information Bill, my ministry requested media practitioners to formulate a statutory self-regulatory framework. Mr Chairman, I regret to report that it has been eight months since the media practitioners, the journalists in particular reaffirmed their commitment to develop a self-regulatory framework but with no tangible progress made so far. Consequently, my ministry has resolved to formulate a self-regulatory framework for media practitioners because their lack of progress is holding back a very important national bill such as the Access to Information Bill,” Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya told Parliament last Friday.
We don’t feel sorry for Honourable Siliya because she is very talented as well as cunning, and there is a chance that she may serve in the next government after PF is kicked out. But the Patriotic Front cannot afford to go this path because their future at the moment is bleak. With such laws in place, which media house will they use to air out their oppression at the hands of the next government?
We can see that the PF wants this law that will regulate the media because they think it is a good law to moderate those who are outside government. The law will not be good for them when they leave power, but they don’t care because they think its impossible to lose power. Right now, they have State controlled media to air any trash they feel like dishing out to the public, and they don’t care what anyone says.
This move needs to be challenged by all well meaning citizens; parliamentarians, church and traditional leaders, civil society, students and lawyers. This is not a fight for journalists, it is a fight for freedom of expression. Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech are one. If one needs a licence to speak, it means the license is also regulating what one should hear. If we allow the Patriotic Front to issue licences to people who want to express themselves, Zambia shall never be liberated from this totalitarianism. Abash media regulation!