Unfortunately, the media in Zambia has failed to speak with one voice on government’s decision to legislate mandatory media regulation. We find ourselves in a situation where some of us have allowed the Patriotic Front government to use us to launder and legitimize a dictatorial decision. We have no issue with those in the media who support this move because we believe in people’s liberties and their freedom to form their own opinions – regardless of the motivation dangling behind the curtains. Actually, we give credit to Honourable Dora Siliya and her team at the Ministry for successfully hypnotizing a section of the media to support this move.
But that will not stop us from standing for what is right. The fight against this statutory media regulation and licensing of journalists is not about us, but all potential victims of this law and the general public out there. It is about the country. Like we said in our Tuesday edition, when you regulate the author of news, you have also regulated the consumer. And we say it is wrong and an act of dictatorship to regulate what news reaches the public.
The argument that journalists have been acting irresponsibly in the absence of this law doesn’t even begin to stand. There is no journalist who is above the law! In fact, a journalist is one of the most vulnerable workers to litigation in this country. Any journalist, editor or organization that publishes libelous or defamatory content can be sued. We were sued for ‘defaming’ a Minister just a few months ago, we had our day in court and we were acquitted. Any journalist who, in the line of their work, commits a crime, can be arrested and prosecuted. The editors of News Diggers! have previously been arrested, forced to spend nights in prison for ‘publishing classified information’ and defaming the Head of State. We had our day in court and justice prevailed.
A journalist has no power to do as they please under the existing laws. So, we are at pains to appreciate anything good that the Patriotic Front government is trying to bring about under this media regulation law. We cannot see one good thing that will come out of it, except to give the politicians the power to legally brutalize critical journalists.
And this brings us to the reasoning behind setting standard qualifications for journalists. What should be the standard qualification for a journalist? A Certificate, Diploma, a Degree, or a PhD perhaps?
The law in this country says the only education qualification that one needs to be a member of parliament is a Grade 12 certificate, nothing more. This Parliament is full of Grade 12 certificate holders, making laws for the country. And if you are elected as member of parliament, the President can appoint you as full Cabinet Minister, to preside over government policy, without any further academic qualifications.
Now, this government is saying in order to write a news story, a journalist should have a degree or related qualifications. They are suggesting that it is very progressive and wise for a Cabinet Minister to hold a Grade 12 certificate and make policies for the country, but not a journalist. Does that make sense? Well, not to us! Like we said, a journalist is very vulnerable, but a Minister is very powerful. The process of arresting a Minister who commits a crime is very hard and complicated. These are the people who are at liberty to behave as they please and abuse their authority with impunity. Those who are desperate to regulate journalists must think about this.
We do not have a problem with education, we love learning. That is why in the short period that we have been in existence, our organization in collaboration with our cooperating partners, has so far spent more than K1 million in training Zambian journalists, and we continue to spend. Our training programmes are not only for private media practitioners, we bring in the best trainers in the world to come and impart skills in journalists from State-controlled and government-funded media organisations as well. To us, we are one family, and in such a fast-paced digital world, all journalists deserve to evolve along with the latest trends and news reporting techniques.
Our problem is that this law seeking to licence journalists will serve nothing other than a weapon to fight and oppress critical journalism. To say any other person who is not a holder of standard journalism qualification cannot write news will create a problem, and we are almost certain that this was an impulse decision that has not been thought through. Some good people at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting are being used to push for a law that they do not fully understand, and they will fail to implement it.
Think about election coverage. Every election year, foreign journalists troop into the country to report news. Some of the foreign journalists, analysts and camera handlers come from various other professions, some are historians and not exactly journalists, but they are great at what they do. Are you going to tell them that ‘by our Zambian standard, you cannot enter our country to work because you don’t qualify to be a journalist?’ We ask this because if you block them, the whole world will rise to condemn this, and the country’s image will be dented further than it already is. But again, if such foreign media practitioners will be allowed to come in and work, you will have permitted ‘unqualified’ foreign journalists to do what you have denied a local journalist. Is that fair?
Think ba PF, think! Don’t just think about staying in power forever.