Columnists Features

World Press Freedom Day beckons


The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 of every year as the World Press Freedom Day. That decision followed a recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.
This in turn was a response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.
My discussion today will focus on Zambia’s participation in the World Press Freedom Day since 1997 when the day was first recognised and commemorated.
Since that day, commemoration of this day has been left to Zambian journalists and a few civil society organisations and political activists. I feel the day is widely misunderstood as a day for media workers and probably the Ministry of Information.
My entry point for believing that the day is misunderstood is that private firms operating in Zambia, government ministries and other stakeholders do not play any role in organising, financing and participating in the commemoration of May 3.
I am aware that for the first time, the organising committee has written to President Edgar Lungu to be the guest of honour at this year’s event hoping this will add a new beginning to press freedom.
Foremost, World Press Freedom day is a UNESCO day and event. Simply put, it is a United Nations day and Zambia is a member of the United Nations.
The simple outlay of this is that the membership to UN is not exclusively for media workers but through the government, all Zambians are members of the UN.
What is strange is that major stakeholders only learn about their day after the news in the evenings or when they meet marching groups on the actual day.
This day was set aside as a special day on which society must reflect on the role freedom of expression has played in facilitating society growth and economic development through the exchange of information and, generally, the enjoyment that goes with the right of citizens to express themselves freely on various matters.
I have in mind debates in public buses, songs, artistic works that have special interpretations and even drama. All these pieces of freedom of expression are enjoyed by almost everyone in a society.
Interviews with journalists for the publication of their views is just one of the many avenues in which society enjoys freedom of expression.
Under this tool, journalists are mere facilitators of that enjoyment but the major stake remains with society in whatever form—politicians addressing rallies, clergy speaking to their parishioners, parents speaking at kitchen parties, etc.
As such, society needs to understand that World Press Freedom day is their epi-cast in terms of remembering or reflecting its role as a tool for development.
When media workers write articles in newspapers, they are simply facilitating a platform for knowledge sharing and learning. To a level of 90 percent, they rely on society as sources of that information. By extension, society is enjoying freedom of expression.
It is therefore my submission that Zambians must flock in unmeasurable numbers when it is time to commemorate May 3.
The national organising committee has made several efforts to ensure that this day is celebrated with citizens by taking the actual commemoration where people live and engage in  activities that involve communities.
In the last four years, journalists have constructed two houses for vulnerable families in Chazanga (2014) and Kamanga compounds (2015). The actual celebrations on May 3 of these years have actually been staged where these houses were constructed.
This year, it has been considered that there will be the construction of a borehole for a yet-to-be-selected community and that is where all stakeholders will gather on May 3, 2017 for actual celebrations.
This year’s theme invites Zambians to rethink critically on how they should be involved in creating just societies. The theme is: “Critical minds for critical times: media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”
It is therefore crucial that Zambians, especially residents of Lusaka, should join journalists when the venue for the construction of a borehole is selected.
These projects are generated through personal donations of money to buy cement and other materials. That is where every citizen will be involved. If you will not afford to bring forth your money, for whatever reason, holding a shovel and throwing sand into construction will be more than adequate.
So, set May 3, 2017 aside and prepare banners to announce your appreciation of freedom of expression which you firstly exercised on your birthday. May 3 of every year is your day.
The author, Patson Phiri, is a media governance analyst

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