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.

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