Speech by the media liaison committee chairperson Mr Enock Ngoma on the 2021 World Press Freedom Day Commemoration

Lusaka, Zambia 3 May 2021 — SPEECH BY THE MEDIA LIAISON COMMITTEE CHAIRPERSON, MR ENOCK NGOMA ON THE 2021 WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY COMMEMORATION; READ FOR HIM BY TECHNICAL WORKING GROUP ON MEDIA REGULATION CHAIRPERSON, MR ERNEST CHANDA

His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu;
The Chairperson, World Press Freedom Day Organising Committee;
The Honourable Minister – Information &Broadcasting Services;
The Permanent Secretary – Information and Broadcasting Services;
The UN Resident Coordinator;
The UNESCO Representative;
My fellow journalists present here and all those scattered across the country;
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen;

All protocol observed.

The Media Liaison Committee (MLC) on behalf of the media bodies, media houses and outlets and on behalf of all the journalists in Zambia would like to thank you, Mr President, for taking time to come and grace our occasion today. We cherish your presence because we cannot remember when we last had a Head of State gracing the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Zambia.

Your Excellency, just to bring you up to speed with the media environment in Zambia, the media Liaison Committee (MLC), a registered entity under the laws of Zambia, is an alliance of the majority of media bodies, associations and trade unions in the media with its main objective of media development and promoting professionalism in the media industry.

It is no secret that journalists have suffered intimidation, harassment and violent attacks from overzealous thugs all in the name of being political party cadres. These cadres in most cases claim they are from the ruling party. We have also had incidents where cadres from opposition political parties have also been culprits.

In just a couple of months, Zambia will be going for a general election and we see ourselves in the media as sitting ducks for the cadres to wilfully attack while carrying out our noble duty of reporting. It is unfortunate that in most instances, journalists are attacked in full view of police officers. And while our people get attacked, these police officers look elsewhere and pretend that they do not see what goers on. It is a very sad situation that our own police cannot protect us even when the law requires them to do so.

However, not all hope is lost because we are happy that some efforts have been made to try and see how best a journalist can be protected during the forthcoming elections. Here, we thank the police command for engaging us most recently on this important matter. We hope that they will honour their pledge to work with us and protect us.

Mr President, we need your voice as Head of State to continue calling for peaceful elections. As President, you are a leader for all and therefore your voice for peace, your call for peaceful elections and your call to protect the journalist shall be taken seriously.

Further, we ask that you engage your cadres to respect our work and our dignity. On this score, we also ask your colleagues in the opposition to speak to their cadres too.

As media practitioners, we realise that even among ourselves there are a few bad eggs. And we continue to engage among ourselves as we seek more professionalism. We shall not allow our profession to go to the dogs while we just stand aloof.

We are mindful of the threat from the government, two years ago, to regulate the media through a law if we did not regulate ourselves. However, since we were already in the process of reorganising ourselves, we engaged your government and it gave us space to develop our own regulatory framework.

In May 2019, the media fraternity unanimously agreed to come up with a statutory self-regulatory framework. And, as we speak, the process of enacting the Zambia Journalism Council Bill has reached advanced stages. We are hopeful that this will enhance our voice as journalists and promote professionalism. This has been achieved through collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services and the Ministry of Justice.

On the other hand, Your Excellency, our tears are still flowing as a result of the closure of Prime Television and we still remain unconvinced by reasons advanced by your government for this closure through the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). And we may not be convinced in the long time to come. We are aware, Mr President, that even after re-applying for their operating license as advised by (IBA), Prime TV was denied the licence. Yet, a good number of new television stations were granted licences without struggle. We therefore ask, what sin did Prime Television commit that can never be forgiven by our government?

This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme is: Information as a Public Good. But are we doing any good to the public by shutting down some media houses? Is this the kind of press freedom and freedom of expression that we are aspiring for as a nation? It is under the Patriotic Front regime that media institutions have been closed for political reasons; and this fact cannot be twisted.

Of course, as media, we shall always seek to disseminate information for public good. And in our quest to do that, we realise that we shall face many challenges, especially from those who do not understand and appreciate the nature of our work. It is never in our interest to malign or defame any member of society. If we do that, our ethics always demand that we make amends by either retracting or presenting facts as they should be.

Your Excellency, we realise that this day has not been fully appreciated by successive governments. This is because while other commemorations have been officially declared public holidays, the World Press Freedom Day has never been. We therefore humbly ask that you use your constitutional powers and declare May 3 of every year a public holiday. This will give more recognition to the day at a local level and constantly remind all stakeholders of the relevance of our profession. For example, the International Women’s Day was never a public holiday in Zambia until one of your predecessors, the late President Levy Mwanawasa declared it a public holiday.

Your Excellency, may we bring to your attention the fact that the media has not been spared by the Coronavirus pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 on media is unimaginable. As a result, a number of media houses are struggling to make ends meet. Operations have increasingly become difficult while salaries have either been cut or if not reduced, they rarely come on time. A number of media houses are on the verge of collapsing.

As Media Liaison Committee, we have decided that we come up with a fund that can be used to cushion some of the sufferings in the media brought about by Covid-19, especially the small media houses/outlets. Even as we are still putting in place modalities of how best to administer this fund, we welcome pledges towards the fund and pledged resources can be channelled through the MLC Secretariat. I have no doubt that Your Excellency will certainly support this noble cause. I also call on all well-wishing individuals and organisations to support this fund so that we can be able to support ailing media houses.

Once again, on behalf of the media fraternity, let me take this opportunity to thank you most sincerely for accepting our invitation for you to join the journalists in celebrating their day. We look forward to continued engagements with you on matters pertaining to media development and professionalism.

May I also thank everyone who supported this cause, including those who marched with us.

I thank you and may God bless us all!

Source: Media Liaison Committee Zambia

Media Liaison Committee Zambia