Analysis: CHARLES CHISALA
LATELY, there has been a revival of the debate on the need for the media in Zambia to come up with a credible self-regulation framework.
In the aftermath of the recent Sesheke parliamentary by-election, the appeal for self-regulation has pitched up amid allegations of partisan and unprofessional reportage.
Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya has repeatedly warned the media in Zambia that Government will not fold arms while they unpatriotically engage in disseminating fake news aimed at tarnishing the image of the country to attract financial support.
Observers are alarmed by the rate at which some media outlets are sowing hate speech, insults and fake news, some of which border on incitement to insurgency.
Highly defamatory and inflammatory statements and defamatory editorials are euphemised as ‘criticism’ or ‘divergent views’.
On February 19, 2019, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo warned that Government would not hesitate to revoke licences of electronic media houses blatantly flouting the provisions of the law under which they operate.
Mr Kasolo said in Lusaka that Government would not allow a few irresponsible media outlets to plunge the country into chaos.
The media should therefore come up with an effective self-regulation mechanism or face statutory regulation.
“If that doesn’t happen, as Government, we are going to bring a regulatory framework and we will put it as a bill to become law,” he warned.
While it cannot be denied that free and truly independent media is good for democracy to thrive, there must be a level of restraint and responsibility.
There is no Government in the world that leaves the media to operate as a loose cannon without any form of regulation.
Where the media have been allowed to abuse their power and independence with impunity, there has been death and destruction.
Many governments across the globe are coming up with strict laws aimed at curbing fake news and hate speech because of their destructive nature.
Should Zambia remain passive to these threats to national peace?
In Rwanda, sensational media incited and fanned the hatred that culminated into the 1994 genocide.
Over a period of 100 days, between April and July of that year, over 200,000 machete-wielding extremists brutally hacked down about 800,000 civilians.
This destructive role the media played in inciting and stoking the violence should be a lesson for Zambia.
Government is justifiably uncomfortable that the media in Zambia remains unregulated.
The media is like a knife with a sharp edge and a blunt one. On its blunt edge, it can play a key role in discouraging the spread of hate speech and violence, thus promoting peace.
But on its sharp edge, it can be a destructive force that fans hate, incites violence and helps to cover up gross human rights violations as some outlets in Rwanda have been trying to either deny or underplay the genocide.
Before 1991, Rwanda did not have any form of media regulation, according to the findings of a research by academician Jean-Damascène Bizimana, author of the book Inzira ya Jenoside Yakorewe Abatutsi.
Dr Bazimana paints a frightening picture of what happens when the media is allowed to operate without regulation.
The genocide in Rwanda was a well-planned and executed campaign largely driven by a loose, hateful media.
Some outlets were set up by bitter people with scores to settle.
For example, in October 1990 Hassan Ngeze, editor of one of the private newspapers, Kangura, published the infamous ‘10 Hutu Commandments’ which explicitly promoted discrimination against the Tutsi.
“The eighth commandment called on all Hutus not to have any mercy on Tutsis,” Dr Bizimana writes.
Kangura published an article on February 9, 1991, which blatantly called for the extermination of all Tutsi.
It stoked hatred of the minority ethnic group and glorified their persecution. Its editor, Ngeze’s message was that all Hutus were expected to dutifully teach the decades-old hate-loaded rhetoric.
In his concluding notes, Dr Bizimana writes, “Have we not learnt from the past? How long will we continue to tolerate hate speech, in any form, under the guise of freedom of speech?
“Hate media fuelled the most efficient genocide of the 20th century, and if we say never again, this commitment must begin with the media.”
The question here is, should the media in Zambia remain unregulated, to publish and broadcast anything without anyone to check them?
The author is a veteran journalist.
Analysis: CHARLES CHISALA