Media Institute of Southern Africa yesterday filed a petition in the Lusaka High Court against the decision of the State to bar private media from covering the official opening of the fourth session of the 11th National Assembly on September, 19,2014.
This is in a case in which MISA chairperson Helen Mwale sued the Attorney General and the Speaker of National Assembly as first and second respondents.
Ms Mwale also petitioned the State against the discriminatory decision by the State apparatus to allow only journalists from the public media houses and The Post Newspaper to cover the event.
She also petitioned the State against the decision by the Head of State from barring private and freelance journalists from entering and covering public events at State House and other rallies addressed by President Michael Sata.
Ms Mwale also petitioned against Article 28 (1), Article 20 and Article 23 of Part III for the Protection of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual under the Constitution of Zambia Cap 1 of the Laws of Zambia.
She stated that on September, 16, 2014 the Clerk of National Assembly wrote a letter directing that members of the Press to cover the official opening of Parliament would be selected by the Ministry of Information through its agency the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) as the occasion was a “State event”.
The petitioner stated that despite media organizations submitting their names to ZANIS as directed by the Clerk of National Assembly, journalists from the foreign and private media including British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), MUVI TV, Daily Nation newspaper, HOT FM and others were denied permission to enter Parliament. Ms Mwale said those journalists have in the past been allowed to enter the Parliament press gallery and the chamber to cover the proceedings of such nature without restriction.
She said in this case only journalists from Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZBNC), Times of Zambia,Zambia Daily Mail and ZANIS the Post Newspaper were allowed.
Members of the petitioner located in Zambia were unable to cover the official opening of the National Assembly and could only monitor the proceedings through the poor signals of Parliament Radio and ZNBC Television.
The petitioners complained that their rights to freedom of the press as protected under Article 20 (1) and in particular article 20 (2) of the constitution of Zambia CAP 1 of the Laws of Zambia were infringed and the violation was likely to continue if the court did not make the declarations sought.
They further complained that the conduct of the Ministry of Information and the National Assembly to allow only State media and one private media cover the event was an act of discrimination.
Ms Mwale stated that the trend by the State to discriminate against the private media in the enjoyment of the freedom of expression had been growing and unless the court made the orders and reliefs sought, nothing would stop or guide the State apparatus from continuing with these violations.
To this affect Ms Mwale asked the court under Article 28(1) of the Constitution of Zambia, for the following declarations and reliefs;
• A declaration that the decision of the Clerk of National Assembly and ZANIS to ban the petitioners from entering Parliament to cover the event was a violation of the freedom of the expression and the Press as protected under Article 20 of the Constitution.
• A declaration that the decision of the Clerk of National Assembly and ZANIS to allow State media houses and the Post Newspaper and disallow the other members of the petitioner from covering the same event was discriminatory.
• A declaration that there was no requirement under the Constitution of Zambia for journalists to seek permission from ZANIS to cover the President or other Public figures or public events of public and national interest including the official opening of the National Assembly.
• An order nullifying the decision of the Clerk of National Assembly contained in his letter dated 16th September, 2014, which requires that accredited journalists must submit their names to ZANIS to cover public events at Parliament including but not limited to the official opening of the Fourth session of the 11th National Assembly by the President.
• A directive to the second respondent to avail the Press gallery and other available areas at Parliament to all accredited journalists and not just those from the public media and the Post when there is a public event.
• A directive to State House not to discriminate against accredited journalists from the independent media in preference from the public media in issuing licenses to enter State House to cover events of a public nature and for which journalists from the public sector and the Post Newspaper have been invited.
• A declaration that the standing decision by the President to ban journalists from the independent and freelance media from covering public events at State House and other public places attended by President Sata is unconstitutional and therefore null and void
• That costs for the petition be borne by the first and second respondents.