Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Statutory media regulation

Written by Gershom Ndhlovu   
Of late, the issue of compelling media organisations and journalists to join the Media Ethics Council of Zambia (MECOZ) and the threat of statutory regulation of the media has been quite hot.

I am one of those who feel that MECOZ has gone off the rails and I wish to point out that there is no need for extrastatutory regulation of the media because the laws that are in place are adequate.

Unfortunately, I do not have ready access to the laws of Zambia, but from what I can recall off-hand, there is the supreme law, the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, which guides every citizen.

The piece of law that sends a chill down the spine of every journalist is the official secrets Act which carries a minimum sentence of 25 years. This mainly guides matters of security of the nation.

Then there is the Penal Code which prescribes crimes and penalties thereof. Under this law, there is criminal libel and defamation as well as sedition to which any journalist is liable if he or she breaks the law. Anyone who feels that a journalist has criminally defamed someone or has committed an act of sedition is free to report him or her to the police.

There is also the law of civil libel and defamation for individuals who feel that a newspaper has written untruthfully about them. Such people are free to sue in their individual capacities to seek compensation for any damage caused them by such publications. A lot of people have invoked this right and many a newspaper has paid the price to an extent of even folding up.

Then there is the law of copyright. No journalist in his right frame of mind can go about lifting published or unpublished materials without attributing to that source. Infringement of copyright can be treated both as a civil or criminal matter.

As I am recalling these laws from memory, I may have forgotten some of the laws and may have misrepresented what they exactly state. However, the point is that there are enough laws in the land dealing with how the media should operate. Our ministers, members of parliament and politicians in general should not even waste time making a piece of law regulating the media when they can invoke the above laws if anyone breaks the law.

One thing for sure is that MECOZ has lost credibility to an extent where it needs serious sprucing if it has to stand with its head high. The people behind it need to go back to the drawing board and start afresh, recapturing the spirit for which it was initiated just over a decade ago. Lecturing on what stories a newspaper should cover, how it should write them and what words should be used, is not in their ambit.

 **This post appeared as a letter to the editor in The Post of 19/05/2009.


Sunday, 17 May 2009

MECOZ lobby is targeting Organizations

Written by Gershom Ndhlovu
I understand the background from which newly-appointed ZNBC acting director general Juliana Mwila is coming.

Ms Mwila was until recently director of press and planning at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and by advocating for the accreditation of journalists through the Media Ethics Council Of Zambia (MECOZ), she is actually singing from the same hymn book as the present and former ministers of information.

Having been a delegate to the inaugural MECOZ meeting held at Andrews Motel in Lusaka in 1998, I feel that the direction that this body has taken is totally opposite of what was discussed at the time.

Every journalist who has studied media law and ethics knows that in Zambia, there is a whole gamut of laws that regulate the media from the civil law of libel to criminal libel in the Penal Code, to the state secrets Act and a whole range in between.

In terms of accreditation, journalists used to get accredited through the now defunct Zambia Information Services. I must admit though that I am a bit ignorant about the role of ZANIS in all this for the simple fact that I have been outside the country for the last few years.

What I remember about the conception of MECOZ was for people who had any complaints against any one media organisation was to short-circuit the court process in terms of litigation by an offended party because libel cases took unnecessarily long for both the aggrieved party and the newspapers.

But the lengths which the pro-MECOZ lobby are taking are worrying because they want to take a tangential course which was not part of those first discussions of September 1998.

It is very clear that that lobby has certain people and organisations in mind by calling for compulsory accreditation of journalists. They must also remember that by calling for statutory regulation of the media, they are being like Dr Frankestein who created a monster that came back to haunt him. The law they want enacted now will encroach on the very people demanding it when they are no longer in the comfort of the offices they are holding now.

By calling for a Law Association of Zambia-like statute, there are a lot of things that will need to be taken into account, such as education levels of practitioners with the very minimum being a degree. Where will it leave non-degree holders? With the lawyers, there is no short-cut. With journalism, everyone with an opinion can write. Friends (and relatives), think deeply about MECOZ and what you want before you regret a few years down the road.

*The above item appeared as a letter to the editor in The Post on 15/5/2009.

Friday, 8 May 2009


By Gershom Ndhlovu


For anyone who has been to Zambia’s rural areas, whether in Western Province or Eastern Province, North-Western Province or Southern Province, the concept of mobile hospitals does not make sense at all. People living in those areas have for many years been served by the existing infrastructure there which needs a lot in terms of equipment, drugs and, crucially, personnel.

As someone who has been to outlying hospitals such as Sichili Mission Hospital in Sesheke, Luampa Mission Hospital in Kaoma, Chilonga Mission Hospital in Mpika, Chitambo Mission Hospital in Serenje and government-run hospitals such as Nyimba and Lundazi, I have seen for myself how the people running these institutions have tried to do their best with limited resources.

The challenges that these hospitals face range from the lack of a constant supply of electricity, to lack of necessary laboratory equipment if they have laboratories in the first place, and even communication equipment for seeking assistance in case of an evacuation which in itself is a far cry.

Forlorn is written on the faces of not only the patients that seek medical services from these hospitals, but also on the faces of the members of staff who are equally helpless in the circumstances.

Granted, people cover long distances to go to these hospitals, but certainly, there is no guarantee that the mobile hospitals will cover every village along the way, and if they will do, what will they do with the cases that need hospitalisation? Will there be beds on which the patients will be dragged all over the place? These are just some of the questions that need answers.

Most of the hospitals in the rural areas are run by missionaries and as such they are kept going, thankfully, by their faith and the support from mother churches in their countries of origin where support is also dwindling with declining church attendance. If these were local doctors and nurses, they would have left long ago to seek greener pastures either in urban areas or foreign countries.

Instead of spending US$53 million on mobile hospitals which would obviously be in form of containers, government would do well to spend this money on existing infrastructure and putting up new hospitals where they do not exist. Who can imagine that Chongwe residents still have to go to the UTH, over 50 km away, for some services?

Government could even buy equipment for which politicians are sent to South Africa when they are ill but which the majority of the people in Mwinilunga, Gwembe and Kaputa come nowhere near to. Ironically, the rural hospitals are even shunned by District Administrators who would rather be treated in bigger and better hospitals!

Practically speaking, these mobile hospitals say in the case of Central Province, will probably not reach Ching’ombe in Mkushi or Ngabwe in Kapiri Mposhi because of the poor road network to these parts. It is no use parking at Mkushi boma or Kapiri Mposhi town centre and asking the ailing to visit these hospitals. The same is true for outlying areas such as Kazembe in Lundazi, Chiawa in Lusaka Province and Mumbezhi in North-Western Province.

I am not a medical person, but I am sure that the dynamics of diseases in Zambia are very different from those in China. Whereas malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are some of the common afflictions in Zambia most of which require hospitalisation at some point, the Chinese probably suffer from different ailments altogether for which a one off appointment with the doctor is enough. In other words, the Chinese are trying to sell Zambia snake oil in terms of these hospitals knowing fully well that they will not work.

In the first couple of years, these hospitals on wheels will be in spick and span condition, and everyone, most probably the Chinese medical crew manning them, will be enthusiastic as funding from the US$53 million will still be flowing, but in the third year when funding dries up, there will be no fuel, no tyres, the engines will need servicing, and then, kaput.

There will no longer be subsistence allowances, and staff will start selling off the on-board equipment and so on and so forth. But even grimmer, Zambians for generations to come, will be saddled with a huge debt which they will be struggling to pay back to the Chinese government.

This is no rocket science, it is simple common sense.


The other week I could not believe what I read about Works and Supply Minister Mike Mulongoti saying democracy in Zambia had been hijacked by some “strange journalists” and non-governmental organisations.

Not to mention the fact that Mulongoti has no constituency apart from the fact that he was elected by about 5,000 MMD members at the party convention as chairman for elections and subsequently nominated by the late President Mwanawasa and later President Banda, he certainly missed his secondary school Civics lessons on democracy.

His attempt to quote Abraham Lincoln’s government of the people, for the people by the people speech was quite clearly misplaced.

The following is the quote from the Gettysburg speech “[We must] be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

On the contrary, Mulongoti wants to curtail the freedom that this great man envisaged for America and the rest of the free world. He wants to take us back to the feudal and monarchical days where only kings and their appointees had any say in matters of governance.

Please, Sir, revisit your Civics note books, if you still have them, for they may help you understand democracy and what it entails. You just have to learn to live with the “strange journalists” and NGOs.

*The format of the blog will soon be changing because the newspaper for which the column was written has been liquidated by its owners, the Zambia Episcopal Conference and the Christian Council of Zambia. I wish to thank the readers who keenly followed the column, and the editors with whom I worked for the last three years when every week, save for one when I did not have an internet connection because of moving house, I unfailingly submitted the column. I thank particularly Mulenga Chomba who initiated the column, Brenda Zulu and Simon Mwanza, both of whom continued to have faith in me. Hats off and good wishes for the future, mates.

Friday, 1 May 2009


By Gershom Ndhlovu

Recently I have received anonymous documents in my e-mail box but the latest one entitled the Dora Siliya Affair: The Parallel Government beats them all. What can be deduced from these documents is that whoever writes them is either well connected to government or was once in government and still has access to information.

One of the earlier documents tore apart Chief Justice Ernest Sakala particularly his attempt to have some magistrates hearing plunder cases, promoted to High Court judges and how the Law Association of Zambia blocked him because most of them did not meet the criteria for appointment and also how someone keeps a “little” secret about his private life.

Says the latest anonymous circular: “Dora Siliya has fallen. One strong pillar that stood against an empire is felled, succumbing to the chain saw of the evil empire. Another strong pillar in George Kunda is being chipped away.

“Justice Dennis Chirwa sealed Dora’s fate when his Tribunal made recommendations that clearly appear to be outside the provisions of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct. Dora faced specific charges and the tribunal findings were expected to restrict itself [sic] to the charges. She was cleared of all charges relating to the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct.

“Yet, she was found liable of breaching Article 54 (3) of the Republican Constitution! Although this opinion rendered appeared mundane and was not a subject or scope of the tribunal, it proved to be the most damaging.

“Further, their inclusion of the Republican President, Rupiah Banda, who was not part of the proceedings, roping him with threatening words, was strange.

“The report included a mischievous fact stating that: ‘’If a sitting President breaches the Constitution, he is liable to impeachment under Article 37’’!

“Was the President the matter of this tribunal?”

The document goes on to say Dora must be remembering a threatening call she received just before elections last October from a named journalist in which she was allegedly threatened that her life would be turned upside down and warned her that her life including her ‘social life’ would be a focus of public glare!

The document states: “Dora dared the heart of an Evil Empire. And now she has paid a high price. And with Dora caving in, the Empire is encouraged that their worst nightmare in George Kunda could also be pressured to resign so that Rupiah Banda remains bare, and bare enough to manipulate or hound out!”

The document concludes: “The empire that has risen against Rupiah Banda is tenacious and relentless one. It will continue to derail his development agenda to the detriment of the country.

“Banda should deal with their crimes decisively since this is the only reason they have mounted a war against him and his government. This clique is so desperate that it is only preoccupied with activities such as an impeachment motion against him. Their activities that [sic] are designed to portray him as a failure, as corrupt and as a political liability to Zambia when not.

“They are so afraid of exposure and they fear that the law is slowly catching up with them and against their activities that they have employed an old age methods from Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

“Sun Tzu is traditionally believed to have penned in 480 BC, the Chinese classic book used by officers in the Military called The Art of War. The book defines various military strategies that are now used constantly by modern politicians and activists.

“Politicians, business managers and other activists now use the Art of War to manage political conflicts and deploy warfare tactics and strategies in order to subdue an ‘enemy’’ in business, public administration.”

The document rumbles on and on. My argument however is that if the authorities know or knew or about the scheming that went on involving the so-called Evil Empire, they could have moved in much, much earlier. But the problem is that not a lot of people in government itself have clean hands and let matters get to the current state of affairs.

Today in Zambia people go into government, or have dealings with it, not for the service of the majority of the citizens, but rather for what they can get out of it for themselves and their families.

What people such as the authors of these documents and their principals should be doing is to examine forests in their own eyes before they point at logs in other people’s eyes. Look at how many people have lost their livelihoods since 1991 at the advent of privatisation, all because of the selfishness of the leaders Zambians have entrusted with their affairs in the last couple of decades.

Zambians must wake up from their slumber and realise that they have the power to put in clean governments rather than being used as pawns in dangerous political and economic chess games that only benefit a few.


As President Banda himself noted on swearing in new Zambia Police Service commissioner Graphael Musamba, the man has always been a sensible policeman.

I remember him as Emmasdale Police station officer-in-charge in the 1990s when I would go there as a reporter on the Sunday Mail in the company of then police service spokesman Peter Chingaipe and he would give us stories that most often turned out to be lead stories.

Musamba, with his colleagues such as Phineas Hindamu, was always cool headed I am not surprised he has risen to the higher echelons of the police service. Hopefully he will probably breathe some fresh air in the police which has slowly been drifting back to a force in the last few years.

If Musamba could treat President Banda humanely when he was detained as a political prisoner then (he had no idea that the man he was dealing with would be president one day), it is just logical that the police service treats all politicians and political functions equally and reasonably rather than with cadre tendencies that some senior policemen exhibit.