Like we stated in our editorial opinion yesterday, this “Zambia Council of Journalists Bill” that government wishes to take to Parliament, according to what they have told us, will dictate that all journalists affiliated to this council should have a prescribed level of qualification, without which, they will not be issued with a practicing licence. We have also been told that erring journalists will be punished by this council, which punishment could include withdrawal of the practicing licence. As an organisation, we have serious reasons why we oppose this Bill in the strongest terms.
Look at what the Independent Broadcasting Authority did to Prime TV! Look at the offence that the TV station committed and look at the punishment that was meted out! Is that commensurate? How can a refusal by a private TV station to air free government adverts warrant cancellation of a broadcasting licence? This is what happens when you give power to people who care only about self-preservation. That power that the Independent Broadcasting Authority has is the same power that this Bill seeks to give to the so-called Zambia Council for Journalists. Which journalists in their right frame of mind can support such a Bill?
We insist that this media regulation agenda is targeted at specific media houses and journalists. When you look at how they have treated the case of Prime TV, it is clear that they want to regulate the media for narrow political reasons, for their own political survival. They see institutions such as News Diggers as a stumbling block in their desire to retain power in 2021. They have attempted to conquer all private media organizations in Zambia but they have failed. On our part as a newspaper, we have many difficulties, many problems, many deficiencies but we have never offered ourselves for hire to anyone. We have tried very hard to take a principled position in our work, even with no resources at our disposal.
But this resilience has not sat very well with them, so they need another mechanism for seizing control of our journalistic activities. That way, if we publish pictures of the President and his suspicious friends from Russia and Belarus, the next day, we will be appearing before a committee at the so-called Zambia Council for Journalists. If our answers to their questions don’t satisfy their interest, they would then withdraw our practicing licenses. This is the agenda and we are saying NO to it.
Using a call for professionalism to gag the media will not work. In fact, we are saying to the Patriotic Front government that there is no media ethics that they can teach us when they don’t have political ethics themselves, not even moral ethics for that matter. We are seeing them embarrassing themselves every day from scandal to scandal.
They really want journalists to uphold distinguished professional ethical standards. They say left unchecked, the unprofessionalism in the media can destroy society. But look at them! When you look at these politicians, what professional ethics do they uphold? Look at our ministers! Who among them can we point at and say, “this one upholds the ministerial code of conduct?” How do they conduct themselves privately and in public?
When they show off pictures of their bedrooms; or when they are about to enjoy their sumptuous gourmet meals with their children; or when they are showing off bundles of money; when they engage in lawlessness, beating people and destroying private property with impunity, do they inspire good leadership or hatred from the people?
They want the conduct of journalists to be subjected to statutory laws while their own conduct remains unchecked. It’s wrong! Which offence can a journalist commit in Zambia that cannot be punished by the already existing laws? Leaders must learn to first fix their professional and moral bankruptcy before they can command other professionals to emulate them.
We are urging our members of parliament to raise these questions that we are asking when this Bill is brought before the House so that the movers can explain how statutory media self-regulation will advance the tenets of democracy, good governance, accountability. From where we stand, there is nothing that this Bill seeks to fix which cannot be fixed using already existing laws. It’s a dangerous Bill and it must be rejected.