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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Has government censorship reduced under PF?

Information Minister Kennedy Sakeni believes PF has achieved a great deal  to improve media freedom in Zambia since it came into power :
It has taken this Government less than 12 months to actualize the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) which the MMD Government shelved for many years. The IBA is now operational under the refurbished offices at the Mass Media Complex in Lusaka. The process to recruit a Chief Executive officer and other staff at the organization, is underway.

With Government’s blessings, the media launched their self regulatory body last year which the MMD, with Mr Mulongoti as Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, had vehemently opposed when they were in office.

Needless to belabour the progress which has been made so far in the process towards the enactment of the long awaited Access To Information Bill which is set to be presented to Parliament during the second half of this year.

Government has also opened up the airwaves for communities and the private sector to invest in the broadcasting industry. In this regard, Government, under the leadership of His Excellency President Michael Chilufya Sata, has issued 10 radio licences and one (01) television licence since coming into office in September, 2011. In addition, Government has issued 13 construction permits for community radio stations and four (04) construction permits for private television stations country-wide.

On the other hand, efforts to improve ZNBC radio reception country-wide, have intensified and ongoing. FM transmitters have so far been installed in 25 districts country-wide while a further 25 districts are earmarked to receive the FM transmitters this year. The programme earmarks to cover the whole country with a clean and clear radio signal from the national broadcaster.

This demonstrates the PF Government’s commitment to ensure free flow and public access to information, a pre-requisite for a thriving democracy.

Further and beyond this, the digital migration process is on course in line with both the regional and international deadlines while for the first time ever, Zambia has acquired the long awaited hologram, a key security feature for distinguishing original from pirated and counterfeit audio and video materials in enhancing the fight against piracy.
It is certainly true than PF is doing more than MMD did in this area. We should not forget just how poor media freedoms were under MMD. The opposition rarely got an hearing and it was often suggested by the likes of Tetamashimba and Siliya that the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia were owned by MMD by virtue of being in power. And that if others wanted coverage they should wait until they get in government. PF has taken a much more reasonable and progressive stance. ZNBC does carry opinion from the opposition to some extent. 

But a lot remains to be done. Mr Sakeni's list is less a record of substantive successes and more of "work in progress". The policies have not yet been fully delivered. Equally important is that PF is still not delivering on key visible media reforms e.g. privatisation of Daily Mail and Times of Zambia. There's also need for more editorial independence at ZNBC. The public media has yet to carry a story that explicitly criticises the PF in any shape or form. Most of the stories are always either pro-PF or leaning PF. The editors appear to live in fear of their jobs. Privatising the public media and giving ZNBC greater editorial independence are quick wins which can be delivered now and will show government means business.

Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

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