Friday, 21 November 2008


By Gershom Ndhlovu

Passing laws out of emotion is the bane of any government and the Zambian law makers should know this from some of the laws that were enacted in President Chiluba’s administration. Some of the laws came back to haunt the same people who enacted them.

The proposed enactment of media regulation laws will not be any different from the same laws that have in the past come to haunt the very people who passed them. Politicians who are today MPs will need a free and unencumbered media at one time or another. Today they may be enjoying coverage in state-owned media, tomorrow they will run to the private media that they are now spitting upon.

Only a few short years ago, Chiluba was in power and he enjoyed unfettered coverage in the state-owned media, today it is only the private media that gives him any meaningful coverage. In the days gone by, all that his aides needed to do was to snap their fingers and state media journalists went grovelling to the palace. Today he is lucky to be given any meaningful coverage if he is not appearing in court.

All those politicians advocating for media regulation would do better by turning a few pages of a history book to see all this. Emotions are high just before, during and immediately after an election especially as regards the coverage of the candidates. But as the nation was warned by ruling party officials, sorting out the media is not a solution.

The solution lies in strengthening governance institutions such as the Electoral Commission of Zambia which should also be streamlined, the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission for them to play their rightful roles in the electoral process.

What leads to perceived negative reportage by the media is the failure by these institutions to deal with matters arising from a weak and even compromised electoral process. The private media vents the frustrations of the people, particularly those in the opposition, who are not adequately covered by the state-owned media.

These are the issues that our legislators should talk about rather than reviving laws of “sedition” which are being dredged from the by-gone UNIP era where people had no outlet for opposing views. If one denounced UNIP then, they were labelled an enemy of the people. It now appears that if one denounces the MMD, they should be punished.

But again, most of the people now running the MMD are “John come lately” from UNIP and still have the mindset of the former ruling party.

Media regulation in the manner it is being advocated, will hurt the fledgling democracy in Zambia which needs a robust media such as is developing in the country. The problem that is there is that the people in control of state media such as ministers and technocrats want to treat those with opposing views as enemies who should be gagged by any means. The private media just fills the vacuum.

The arrest of Radio Icengelo’s Father Frank Bwalya, which badly backfired when Kitwe residents rioted as a result, shows how maliciously the laws, once enacted, will be applied.

The proposed media regulation will most likely be rendered useless because the media landscape is changing from the tradition media to new media under the fast developing information and communication technologies with which journalists and non-journalists alike can publish what they like and when they like. Even radio can now be run on the internet with the right software from someone’s bedroom.

Licensing of journalists in such circumstances will not work because many Zambians now have access to the internet and they will just resort to the internet to write and broadcast their views. There are already some websites in existence where Zambians exchange views which would not ordinarily be viewed as complementary of the MMD government.

The only positive view, if it can be said to be a positive at least for the government, is that not many Zambians have access to the internet, something that is slowly changing though. So the law the legislators are proposing should be all encompassing to the extent that people should not even have access to the internet. But then this is the 21st century and digital technology is the way to go.

Not too long ago, Zambians relied on what information they received through government controlled media, today the case is different. Information is all over the place particularly through the internet. As one sage said, you can cage the singer but you cannot cage the song. Someone somewhere will pick up the tune and it will prove to be difficult to cage each and every singer who takes it up.


President Rupiah Banda first international relations assignment, that of endorsing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) decision on Zimbabwe, does not in any way reflect the late President Levy Mwanawasa’s legacy who was clearly not happy with political developments in that country.

Banda should have at least sided with Botswana President Ian Khama who has maintained the position that President Robert Mugabe’s regime is illegitimate and the only way forward is to holds fresh elections.

Personal relations between heads of state and the concept of non-interference which is fast being jettisoned in the practice of international relations and diplomacy, should no longer matter in the Zimbabwean circumstances where the government has ceased to care about the welfare of the citizenry but rather concentrates on the survival of the ruling class.

Mwanawasa was uncompromising on the issue of Zimbabwe. President Banda has shown his weakness on the issue by succumbing to Mugabe’s arm twisting and tactics coupled with his friendship with some leaders in the SADC to an extent where MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai is now the villain rather than the victim of ZANU-PF’s electoral chicanery.

It may appear that SADC now operates along the principle of “scratch my back and I will scratch yours” considering that it has been rushing to declare all elections in the region free and fair even with glaring irregularities have been exposed by opposition parties and local monitors. SADC is a big shame on its own.

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