Working for the Zambia's National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) may soon become risky business. The organization plans to implement new disciplinary regulations that will be tied to statutory laws affecting media.
ZNBC board chairman John Mulwila, during the unveiling of the new regulations, warned that those who breach the new editorial policies for news and current affairs would not only be dealt with under the disciplinary code but would also be subject to national legal frameworks regulating media workers and organizations.
Speaking at the launch of a new television news program, Mulwila, also an attorney, said:
… [T]he provisions contained are also binding on external interest groups or individuals. Those who abrogate these provisions shall be dealt with according to provisions of the Laws of Zambia and other media regulatory bodies.
Broadcasting in Zambia is currently regulated by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. There are several other pieces of legislation that deal with the media ranging from registration requirements for print publications to defamation and sedition laws, some which carry length prison terms if violated. Mulwila did not offer specifics on how national regulations would be brought to bear for broadcast media workers. It is unclear how the policy would affect the balance of liability between individuals journalists and the broadcaster for coverage that violates national law — there is some suspicion that the new rules will leave journalists personally liable for violations, a shift that could prove devastating for media freedom in the country.
At present, ZNBC mainly covers government and ruling party official activities, rarely incorporating opposition and critical viewpoints. This new regulation is likely to push people and groups with divergent views even further into the margins.
On The Ultimate Zambia Media Critique, blogger Bruce Chima commented on a Facebook conversation that resulted from Mulwila’s statement:
Mulwilwa’s statement if indeed reflects the contents of this document that is not yet public has worried Zambian media experts who are baffled at the extent of its implications.
Chooma also quoted Press Association of Zambia president Andrew Sakala expressing fear that if Mulwila’s pronouncements were correct then, media freedom would be stifled.
I would like to see a copy of this policy, I hope ZNBC will make it public so that we make informed comment but the key is that editorial policy is supposed to enhance professional and ethical journalism. I wonder how non-employees of ZNBC will violate the policy to attract punishment!
Blogger Nyalubinge Ngwende, writing at Brutal Journal, joined the debate and did not mince words:
I was going to be happy if the board chairman told those fond of harassing the national broadcaster staff from political pedestals to desist from doing so because the editorial policy protects the work of staff.
Staff were supposed to be given more space to explore their talent and told to feel free because this time more than ever they will be protected from overzealous politicians or board members.
A few days before Mulwila made his statement, political satirist Spectator Kalaki, optimistic about ZNBC gaining its independence from politicians, posted on his Facebook wall:
When ZNBC becomes independent they will decide their own news priorities, and stop following ministers around like puppy dogs.
In the wake of Mulwila’s statement, media practitioners in Zambia — particularly independent online media, who have faced sustained threats from authorities for years — will need to be on the lookout for legislation that could lead to worker intimidation and greater control over media freedom.