The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) strongly condemns recent actions by government and Patriotic Front officials namely the Minister of Youth and Sport Honourable Chishimba Kambwili, Honourable Sylvia Masebo and Acting Deputy National Secretary Anthony Kasolo in attempting to interfere with the content of news the broadcast by the National broadcaster Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) on the ground that it contained reports on activities relating to opposition parties and parties that do not favour the current ruling dispensation.
As a National broadcaster ZNBC is mandated to broadcast news relating to all Zambians regardless of political, cultural, religious, social or any other affiliation. Any attempt to infringe on this mandate is a serious abrogation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression and indeed restricts the flow of information to Zambians particularly in the wake of the upcoming presidential election. It is critical that Zambians have access to information to enable them have the opportunity to evaluate the views and opinions of all political stakeholders in order to make informed decisions. We further condemn the views of the aforementioned officials that the National broadcaster should protect the ruling party, the Government or any particular individual in Government as part of its mandate. Not only is this incorrect but it also indicates a clear misunderstanding of Government’s role in operations of the National broadcaster that is autonomous and that should be independent and impartial. LAZ further calls upon the Government and Patriotic Front Officials to separate issues that relate to the ruling party from issues that relate to the Nation and to act accordingly.
LAZ applauds the bold action taken by the Board of ZNBC under the leadership of Dr. John M. Mulwila, SC. The statement by Dr. Mulwila shows that ZNBC is prepared to protect its institutional autonomy. We further commend the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) for supporting the ZNBC Board in this regard. We are confident and hopeful that both these statements reflect a permanent change in the way that freedom of the media will henceforth be protected by those who preside over the public media institutions.
LAZ believes that this incident, like many other incidents in which our political leaders have exhibited unbridled arbitrariness, further highlights the need for the urgent enactment of a new people driven constitution to underscore the importance of freedom of media in a democratic country.
LAZ takes cognizance of provisions in the final draft constitution released on 23rd October 2014 that provides as follows:
Subject to clause (3), the freedom and independence of electronic, broadcasting, print and other forms of media is guaranteed.
Article 36 (2)
The State shall not exercise control over or interfere with a person engaged in –
(a) broadcasting or the production or circulation of publications; or
(b) the dissemination of information through any media
The State may licence broadcasting and other electronic media where it is necessary to regulate signals and signal distribution.
Public media shall –
(a) independently determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or communications; and
(b) afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.
LAZ finds itself duty bound to demand that the presidential candidate who shall emerge victorious on 20th January 2015 must make the constitution – making process a priority so that the protection of the media is fully grounded in law.
PRESIDENT – LAZ