This year’s press freedom day (May 3) falls at a time when Zambia is headed for general Elections. This important democratic process places a heavy responsibility on the Media.
It is incumbent upon the media to rise to the occasion play its role of being market Place of ideas, being a platform at which political players must sell themselves as well as play its role as a watchdog.
This means the media must ensure that they give fair and balanced coverage to all players and that no candidate or political party is unfairly treated or demonized.
However I must stress that giving fair and balanced coverage does not mean candidates or political parties must not be scrutinized and criticized. Being fair does not mean the media should play a role of lapdogs rather than watchdogs.
Being fair means that reportage must be factual honest, truthful and accurate. It means criticism and commentaries or opinions must be based on fact.
For the public, they are obliged to give all contestants fair coverage and should not be seen to support one candidate or political party. It must be borne in mind that public media are public goods which must be enjoyed by all citizens.
This means all political players and other stakeholders such as civil society, election observers and monitors and the public at large must have access and be given platform wherever it is practically possible.
At the moment, the conduct by the public falls far short of their obligations and my earnest appeal is that they should change their attitude.
The public media should at the very least take a cue from the Electoral commission of Zambia (ECZ) which at least bothers to buy airtime for candidate during elections.
While it acceptable that private is allowed to endorse a candidate and even support him or her, the private media must do so in professional manner and not unfairly demonize other contestants.
The private media must also remember that they also have professional and ethical obligations that demand that no candidate or political is unfairly treated even though they might have preferred choices.
Although the Electoral code of conduct contains a part which PAZA does not agree with (the part which recommends for jail terms for violation of the code), both the private and public can use the document a guide for coverage during the forthcoming elections.
The ECZ also has a great responsibility by ensuring that the elect oral code of conduct is enforced in a fair and just manner and information that is required by the media for public consumption is released in a timely manner.
PAZA wish to call on the government also ensure that it provides an environment where the media can operate freely.
Recent threats of closing any media outlet which reports on issues which government is unhappy with do not help to create an atmosphere for a free and fair media.
In this regard, PAZA appeals to the ministry of information and broadcasting to operationalise the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) so that the authority takes over the regulation of broadcasting industry.
At the moment, the minister is exercising the functions in default of the IBA and this a recipe for suspicion and accusations since the minister is a political figures that has political interests to protect.
PAZA also calls on all political parties tro ensure that they restrain their cadres from attacking journalists and allow them to cover all political events freely.
In the recent past there has been an increasing number of attacks on Journalists by political operatives and it therefore incumbent upon the political cadres to take practical action and stop the attacks.
This also applies to the security wings which have the habit of harassing journalists. Please do not attack the messenger.
Lastly, I wish to encourage all my fellow journalists to remain committed to the profession and remain resolute in the face of many threats and even intimidation from all quarters of society.
As we launch, the Zambia Media Ethics Council (ZAMEC) we must remember that our obligation is to the public by being professional and ethical in our duties.
We must remember that we are all journalists even though we might work for different institutions and the common thread of being journalists that must bind us together and ensure that ZAMEC succeeds.
Press statement Signed