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We vote media self-regulation by law

ON May 10, 2019, after two days of heated debates, proposals and counter-proposals, lectures and point of clarifications, the over 220 delegates gathered at Media Regulations Insaka held at the Golden Peacock Hotel in Lusaka unanimously voted to have the media in Zambia self-regulated under the law.
They called it ‘media self-regulation backed by law’.
In an end-of-conference Communique read out by the chairperson of the Media Liaison Committee (MLC) Mr. Enock Ngoma, they stated, “We the journalists… having listened and deliberated on the matters at hand, namely adoption of a preferred mode of media regulation for Zambia…having considered the history of media regulation in Zambia post-independence and the various efforts at media regulation through Media Ethics Council of Zambia (MECOZ) and Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC), and having considered the interests from Government and the members of the public on the need for professionalism and improved role of the media in providing fair and balanced coverage…, having considered the various interests of various media players, namely media owners, community media, online media and mainstream media… having studied the various media models as exist in progressive and non-progressive countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, among others…having noted and discussed that there are various media regulation models available for Zambia to choose, namely self-regulation model, statutory regulation model and a new hybrid of media regulation known as ‘co-regulation, we do hereby unanimously say we prefer that the media continue to manage and control its affairs through an improved media self-regulation model backed by law and as suits our prevailing conditions.”
The MLC Communique went on to state that the Zambia Media Council should be revived, its statutes improved and this new ZAMEC be recognised by law as the ‘body in charge of media self-regulation in Zambia’.
This outcome from the Golden Peacock Hotel Media Self-Regulation Insaka elated the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS) with the Permanent Secretary Mr. Chanda Kasolo sending out congratulatory messages minutes after the vote was counted and way before the Conference Communique could be read out to the delegates. This is the decision that the Zambian government has always suggested to the media fraternity from the time the MMD government, through the Right Rev Ronnie Shikapwasha, had tried in vain when the media of that era decided on a voluntary, self-regulatory system in the style of the Tanzania and South Africa press councils and formed a new body called the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) to replace the defunct Media Ethics Council of Zambia (MECOZ) of 2002 saying that the “government is withdrawing its support for this ZAMEC process because it fears that any voluntary system will be left “toothless and unenforceable” (like the MECOZ). The minister wrote that Government supported the Kenyan “hybrid” model of regulation – whereby an independent self-regulatory council is created and ‘backed by law’.
The first attempt at self-regulation started when the Media Council of Zambia (MECOZ) was established by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) with the support of international donors in 2002, and launched in 2004, but unfortunately proved to be an ineffective regulatory mechanism. The disintegration of MECOZ, according to the International Press Institute (IPI) Media Report of 2010 on Zambia, has been largely blamed on the lack of participation by the now defunct The Post Newspapers – the country’s only privately owned daily newspaper at that time – and secondly on members’ failure to comply with decisions, especially the big government-owned media (Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation).
The Media Liaison Committee – a consortium of media organisations that together represent journalists from almost all public and private media houses – decided in late 2008 that Zambia needed a new reformed regulatory system better than MECOZ, hence the formation of a successor to MECOZ called ZAMEC.
ZAMEC too did not take off and the media vote in 2019 to have a ‘media self-regulation backed by law’ model which is in effect statutory regulation of media was after a review of the failures of self-regulation through the MECOZ and ZAMEC way.
What then is the difference in this statutory self-regulation and how does it differ from the self-regulation model as known in the past?
According to media and legal experts, “media self-regulation is a joint endeavour by media professionals to set up voluntary editorial guidelines and abide by them in a learning process open to the public. By doing so, the independent media accept their share of responsibility for the quality of public discourse in the nation, while fully preserving their editorial autonomy in shaping it.”
Media self-regulation is about establishing minimum principles on ethics, accuracy, personal rights and so on, while fully preserving the editorial freedom of the media to report and what opinions to express.
Accordingly, self-regulation helps the media to respond to legitimate complaints and concerns and where they are found wanting the media self-corrects its mistakes in a trial-and-error way. Self-regulation therefore is a voluntary media peer review of the media’s performance. It is a pledge by quality-conscious media professionals to maintain a dialogue with the public through a complaint mechanism that is set up to deal with justified concerns in a rational and autonomous way.
By promoting standards, self-regulation helps maintain the media’s credibility with the public. This is particularly welcome in new democracies, most of which are also new to an independent press. Media self-regulation helps convince the public that the free media are not irresponsible.
At the same time, self-regulation protects the right of journalists to be independent, and to be judged for professional mistakes not by those in power but by their colleagues.
When it comes to correcting factual errors or violations of personal rights by the press, satisfaction over the judgments of self-regulatory bodies lessens pressure on the judiciary system to sanction journalists.
Self-regulation mechanisms are voluntary, and each media house and its journalists participate without being forced.
On the other hand, most alternatives to self-regulation have been labelled as “statutory regulation”, as they derive their regulatory powers from the statutes, that is, the law or an act of parliament.
University of Zambia media law expert Elizabeth Mweene Chanda says the term ‘statutory’ refers to any regulation that is implemented by law. It is commonly confused as a synonym for ‘state regulation’, which would be the performance of regulatory activities directly by government bodies. Ms. Chanda states that it was important to highlight that statutory regulation does not mean government control. Statutes can establish different models of regulation, to be led by different agents such as the registrar of societies or indeed a separate Act of Parliament.
There are various possibilities of combining statutes with self-regulation. In theory, most of these arrangements can be classified as co-regulatory systems that exist when an industry self-regulatory association, in this case ZAMEC, has some oversight and/or ratification by Government through an act of parliament. For instance, a statute can design structure, powers and accountability systems for an independent regulatory body, as happens in Denmark. The Danish Press Council, a body whose members are appointed by government, is responsible
However, the difference between the old media self-regulation model and the proposed new statutory media self-regulation model is that the media will presumably have the control of how they will regulate themselves under the authority or protection of an act of parliament, through peer review, name and shame.
This media peer review, unlike in the past under self-regulation, will be happening under the auspices of a special law, a special act of parliament, that compels all media houses, journalists and writers to comply with the decisions made and tow the professional ethics guidelines issued by ZAMEC.
The author is media and communications consultant at MB Zambia Ltd and a member of the MLC Technical Committee on Media Self-regulation. www.facebook. com/MthoniswaB