NKOLE NKOLE, LUSAKA
DURING President Edgar Lungu’s address to Parliament on September 15, he referenced the implementation of a national film policy aimed at promoting local content in the country.
The policy, according to President Lungu, is a result of the government’s recognition of the need to accelerate universal access to information through radio and television.
It is not the first time that a national film policy has been addressed by him. The first directive over its formation came in 2015 and was welcomed by stakeholders in the arts such as the National Association for Media Arts (NAMA).
President Lungu had issued the directive to the former Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Chishimba Kambwili, to take the policy to cabinet before the end of February 2016.
This was during celebrations in Lusaka marking MultiChoice’s 20th anniversary.
The policy was seen as a way to create jobs and diversify the economy but progress in its implementation has been slow.
Presently, Zambia’s digital migration policy provides for 35 percent local content while the film policy sets it at 60 percent.
The President noted that the digital migration programme is so far progressing well as 10 digital broadcasting transmitters have been installed along the line of rail, thereby bringing digital television services to thousands of homes at minimal cost.
Another 36 transmitters are targeted for installation in different parts of the country and will become fully operational before the end of this year.
“The installation of these transmitters will mark the completion of the digital migration roll-out and ensure the digital migration signal reaches every town, village and household in Zambia,” President Lungu said.
A challenge previously cited regarding the film policy was how even without the policy which demands local content, the national broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), was unable to meet the digital migration’s 35 percent target.
President Lungu had referred to the film industry as vital for the preservation of culture and heritage and called for significant investment in the industry.
In December 2015, when he initially directed its formation, President Lungu said the aim of the policy was to provide clear guidelines aimed at developing the sector.
National Association of Media Arts (NAMA) chairperson Patrick Sauloshi Salubusa recalled that the first time the President made the pronouncement was in 2015 and it was expected that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services would produce a document by February 2016.
“This time it was done at Parliament, which shows that it is a very serious pronouncement,” Sauloshi said.
“Once this policy is law, it will become binding but the concerned parties need to move at a quicker pace,” he emphasised. “The key stakeholders involved have to speed up the process because what’s happening is frustrating.”
Sauloshi said the policy is supposed to give value to the Zambian film industry and presents the hope that soon there will be a film fund, a film commission and hopefully, government run film schools.
People in key positions at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services are not doing a good job in driving the process for the policy’s implementation, laments Sauloshi.
He said he does not remember the last time NAMA was invited by the ministry to discuss the policy.
Salubusa argued that the film policy will not place value on film-makers if associations representing them are not part of the policy-making process.
“We want a serious meeting or a film indaba with filmmakers involved to look at how the policy will benefit producers in the industry,” Salubusa demanded.
He added that the digital migration policy promised film-makers the chance to supply 35 percent of local content but some TV stations are still not buying content from local producers and there are no penalties involved to deal with this.
“This film policy is our document and we have to be involved as film-makers,” emphasised Salubusa, before asking matter-of-factly, “Who is going to discuss the policy if we are not part of the process?”
Recently, Nigerian actor Nkem Owoh, otherwise called ‘Ukwa’ was in the country and advised Zambian creatives to own the local film industry, reminding them that it required a lot of sacrifices which only the younger generations would come to enjoy.
Owoh said Zambian artistes must put in all the rigorous work involved in growing the film industry and have the courage to face various obstacles.
And National Theatre Arts Association of Zambia (NATAAZ) chairperson Boyd Chibale said this is the third public pronouncement by President Lungu regarding the film policy.
While the policy pronouncement is a positive step, Chibale, like Sauloshi, said arts practitioners are concerned with the pace at which the implementation is going.
He shared that there are presently a lot of film companies being established in Zambia, making a film policy necessary to guide the operations of these companies.
Simultaneously, Chibale said implementation of the national film policy comes in a season marking a migration from the analog to the digital era in Zambia and provides space to feed the demand created by the new digital era being entered by October 1.