WE are deeply inspired by President Lungu’s passionate, sincere and assuring message to the media fraternity.
President Lungu, who was commenting on the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day which falls on May 3 every year, assured that the media in Zambia will be allowed to operate freely in a responsible manner as long as he remains head of State.
This is indeed commendable considering that for the media in Zambia to thrive and carry out its mandate of informing, educating and entertaining society, political will is critical.
And this is what President Lungu has committed to during his tenure.
Needless to say, Government has already been working to create a conducive environment in which the media can flourish.
This is why in the recent years; Zambia has experienced a rapid increase in the number of media outlets across the print, online and electronic platforms.
For instance, government has accelerated issuance of radio and television licences through the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) resulting in 110 radio stations and 40 television stations on air countrywide.
This has ranked Zambia’s broadcasting sector as one of the most liberalised on the African continent.
In its bid to enhance freedom of the press, among other rights, Government facilitated the proposed amendments to the constitution to enhance the bill of rights.
The proposed Bill of Rights provides for the Access to Information Bill among other critical rights of the media and individuals.
However, the proposed Bill of Rights, which was subjected to a referendum alongside the August 11, 2016 general election failed to go through. Had it gone through, Zambia would have been at a different level in terms of press freedom.
However, hope is not lost as Government is still determined to use other processes to pass the Access to Information Bill.
It is also in public domain that Government is in the process of formulating the national information and media policy to guide the growing media industry.
The Ministry of Information and broadcasting Services will also soon convene a national media forum where journalists and other stakeholders will discuss the state of the Zambian media and resolve on how to move forward.
These efforts can only come from a government that believes in a free and flourishing media.
It is indisputable that President Lungu understands the importance of the media to fostering development as well as nurturing our young democracy.
While the media has been assured of the liberty to operate without any interference, this liberty comes with responsibility.
This is why the media must take President Lungu’s words for them to introspect and reflect seriously.
In line with this year’s theme, “Critical minds for critical times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies”, the media needs to take a step backward and reflect if at all it is contributing to a peaceful, just and inclusive society.
The media, as a fourth estate, has the power to shape society’s thinking and agenda through the content it channels out.
It is therefore professional obligation for the media to exercise its power with utter responsibility, failure to which it becomes a danger to society.
When President Lungu says the media is free to operate, it does not mean that the media has the right to commit atrocities in the name of press freedom.
The message from President Lungu is clear; government will not regulate the media.
It therefore means the ball is in the hands of journalists to regulate themselves as a way of ensuring professionalism.
While we appreciate the existence of Zambia Media Council, the body is limited in its capacity to enhance ethical conduct due to lack of legal backing.
There is need for media bodies and media practitioners to come together and devise ways of strengthening ZAMEC or come up with a different body altogether, if the profession is to be trusted with self-regulation.