Media groups have welcomed an announcement by the Zambian government
that it plans to review its 1996 media policy, reports Ellen Chikale.

The Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Vernon Mwanga, promised the review during the parliamentary budget vote on his ministry  recently.

The 1996 media policy provided for the liberalization of broadcasting, through the establishment of an independent broadcasting authority (IBA) and changes to the act governing the public broadcaster.  But these moves have still to be implemented, and have been subject to court wrangles.

The policy also said a Freedom of Information (FOI) bill should have been passed in 2001. But in 2002 the bill was withdrawn and deferred indefinitely.

Mwanga observed that reviewing the policy will also remove obstacles to investment in the information sector.

The vice president of the Press Association of Zambia, Amos Chanda, said as long as the IBA board was not in place, broadcast licences would continue to be issued by government in an unfair way.

He added that tax on newsprint and broadcasting equipment was still too high, and this was preventing the growth of the information sector.

“We need newsprint and broadcast equipment to be brought down. Also for government not to be the dominant factor in the print sector. The sector needs to be competitive. So we are saying privatize the two government-owned newspapers,” Chanda said.

However, he said there had been tremendous progress in introducing community radio stations.

In what is known as the Fifth National Development Plan (FNDP), the government has prioritised the roll-out of radio transmitters to improve reception.

The FNDP also provides for a media development fund that is to help develop the private media.
Misa Zambia president Father Frank Bwalya said the move by government to review the media policy was welcome.

Bwalya hoped the review would not be misused to introduce new obstacles to the operation of the free media.