State pledges to help media grow

GOVERNMENT says media reports and other interventions by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) were key in cultivating a fertile environment for the growth of a free, professional and responsible media which is a pre-requisite for sustainable social and economic development.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Joseph Katema said this yesterday during the launch of the State of the Media Report for the first and second quarters of 2014 by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) at MISA House in Lusaka.

And Dr Katema revealed that Cabinet in its last sitting approved the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) board and that the announcement would soon be made.

Dr Katema said government continued to implement wide-ranging measures to professionalise the media so that it contributed meaningfully to national development.

“The public media has now been freed to set its own editorial agenda with the result that the three public media institutions namely Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation now compete with private media houses in both quality and quantity of their productions on the market,” he said.

The minister said also that the government remained irreversibly committed to the enactment of the Access to Information Bill and that in the next few weeks it would be presented before the legislative committee of Cabinet.

Dr Katema said also that his ministry had completed gathering views from media stakeholders that included MISA and its affiliates in the formulation of the Information and Media Policy that would guide the growth of a free and professional media in the country.

He said technocrats in the ministry were analyzing and collating the response from media stakeholders for use in drafting the media policy.

He  called on MISA and other media bodies not to tire in the promotion of decency and high professional standards in media industry.

And MISA Zambia chairperson Hellen Mwale said her organisation found it prudent to undertake media freedom monitoring and compile the state of the media reports as a way of giving feedback to citizens and the government regarding development on these fundamental rights that were also a bedrock of democracy, good governance and development.

Ms Mwale said through these reports MISA sought to promote media freedom and other rights.

“Freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom play a critical role of defending right to health, education including needs like clothing, food and sanitation because resources allocated for such needs will be transparently used while policy and laws will protect them from abuse,” she said.

She said the reports for quarter one and two both indicated a stagnation in the Constitution-making process which has since dampened the hope for better and enhanced media freedom, access to information and freedom of expression. The current Constitution has a number of inadequacies when it came to protecting of these rights as it did not expressly state that citizens had the right to access to information from public institutions neither did it provide for freedom of the media, especially the public owned ones.

Ms Mwale said also that the IBA and ZNBC Acts of 2010 had not been amended to return the appointments committees in the two laws as these would allow for autonomy in the appointment of the boards for the two institutions.

She said also that government had continued to drag its feet to amend some sections of the Penal Code and the State Secrets Act that impeded the rights of the media, freedom of expression and access to public information.

Meanwhile, Ms Mwale said the number of  violations against the media recorded this year so far were more than 40 compared to 14 for 2013. She said it was unfortunate that most of these violations were committed by political party cadres from the ruling Patriotic Front and some Cabinet ministers.