INFORMATION Minister Joseph Katema has a lot to learn about the mandate of his ministry and Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) in particular, if he has to become an effective Chief Government spokesperson on media matters.
It is the first in the history of the country that some journalists were barred from covering an official State function such as the opening of the National Assembly and was shocking to listen to Dr Katema agonisingly struggle to justify his government’s decision to gag journalists at Parliament.
We did not see this in the 27 years of Kenneth Kaunda’s administration which is seen to have been ruthlessly autocratic. We also never saw this during the Frederick Chiluba administration.
The private media did not go through what is happening today to cover Parliament during the Levy Mwanawasa administration neither was this happening when Rupiah Banda was President.
What is excruciatingly shocking is that Dr Katema, the chief government spokesperson blamed the legislature over a matter he is fully in-charge of and his excuses were as baffling as the action of his own government.
Parliament is a legislative arm of government and by blaming the National Assembly, Dr Katema is only exposing how unschooled he is in the mandate of the arms of his own government, let alone the media, which is called the fourth estate.
We did not expect Dr Katema to blame Parliament for the mishandling of media personnel’s accreditation to cover the official opening of the fourth session of the 11th National Assembly.
If Dr Katema had bothered to consult his staff and even ZANIS, he would have learnt that apart from accreditation, Parliament had little power on selection of journalists to cover the National Assembly and later on where they would be positioned.
There had never been a time when Parliament had directed that a selected number of media houses monopolised the press gallery and the chamber in exclusion of other media houses.
Had Dr Katema gone back to history with ZANIS, he could have noticed that because of limited capacity of the National Assembly press gallery during its official opening, Parliament would normally reserve a seat for each media house in Zambia than totally excluding some.
He would also have learnt that media houses have their own way of determining news and observe events instead of being subjected to news values of particular media houses.
But this is what Dr Katema is trying to tell Zambians when he blames Parliament for mishandling of media accreditation.
It is only under the PF government that a moratorium had been placed on the covering of events such as political rallies being addressed by President Sata.
As it stands today, part from one, no private media is allowed to cover functions at State House and according to Dr Katema, he does not see anything wrong with such kind of an approach.
Recently, while President Sata was in Mkushi on a campaign trail, some media houses were barred from covering the Head of State and the excuses by Dr Katema that there are regulations of how the private media is expected to cover such events is nothing but redundant.
We are worried that Dr Katema has not given private media houses any hope as he has maintained that unless and until his government’s regulations which we have not been accorded a chance to see are followed, the status quo would continue.
Dr Katema has a lot to learn about media operations instead of defending what cannot be defended.