Thirteen media bodies have re-launched their fight for media law reforms in Zambia, writes Ellen Chikale.

The media bodies have petitioned the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Amusaa Mwanamwambwa, to direct government to present to Parliament names of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) board members for ratification.

In a communiqué announcing the re-launch of the fight for media law reforms, the media bodies said government should make known the proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill before taking them to Parliament.

They also demanded that Members of Parliament should reject the FOI Bill if it is not publicised before being tabled in Parliament.

Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) vice president Amos Chanda said the 13 media bodies had re-constituted a national lobby committee to spearhead the campaign for media law reforms in Zambia.

Chanda said the committee would operate within the confines of the law, but do so forcefully with extensive terms of reference.

“We appeal to the parliamentarians, to support the cause for an open FOI and, secondly amend, repeal, or enact other pieces of legislation that impinge on media freedom,” Chanda said.

The media bodies also demanded an immediate end to alleged threats against media houses and harassment of journalists by both private and public officials.

The process of enacting the FOI Act had stalled since 2002 when the bill was withdrawn from parliament to allow for more consultation.

But recently President Levy Mwanawasa re-introduced the bill when he officially opened parliament.

And Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Mike Mulongoti assured the nation that the FOI bill would be widely circulated to all stakeholders and the general public for their perusal and final comments.

The organisations include PAZA, Press Freedom Committee of the Post, the Zambia chapter of both the Commonwealth Press Union and the Southern Africa Editors Forum, the Media Trust Fund and Media Council of Zambia.

Others are the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Zambia Media Women’s Association, Zambia Union of Journalists, PANOS Institute of Southern Africa, Zambia Community Media Forum, Society for Senior Journalists and Catholic Media Association.

Chanda said the organisations agreed to lobby National Constitutional Conference (NCC) members to support the cause of media law reform and would publish their submissions to the Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission so that their interests and aspirations were not lost in the final Constitution.

Zambia is currently reviewing its Constitution through the National Constitution Conference (NCC).

There is a perception that the FOI was only for the benefit of the media, while it has been argued that it would benefit all citizens.

The media bodies also refused statutory regulation which was being advanced by some sections of society, saying the laws already in place were adequate to deal with wayward journalists.

And MISA-Zambia chairperson, Henry Kabwe, commended Mwanawasa for committing himself to seeing to the implementation of the FOI law.

Kabwe however challenged the media to sensitise the public about exactly what the FOI Act will be all about to avoid suspicion.