The quest for regulation of the media in Zambia

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Kamwengo, Mary Katumwa
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A democratic society cannot function properly without the participation of the media. The media play the special role of watchdogs of society, by providing the public with information that enable them to make informed decisions on issues of governance. While it is recognized and appreciated that the media are watchdogs of society, it is equally recognized that they do not operate in a vacuum and therefore have to observe societal norms such as respect for decency, truth telling and responsibility. This is because accurate and reliable information is the lifeblood of the democratic process. However, the press are often seen to rely on government propaganda and be influenced by commercial values when reporting political and social issues. These concerns have resulted in calls for the press to be more socially responsible. Generally, the press have come to realise that some form of regulation of media ethics is essential because failure to regulate will result in further erosion of public confidence in the media. Accordingly, in the last few years, Zambia has found itself pushed in the debate on media regulation. The question has been what sort of regulation will ensure the press behaves ethically; should the media be encouraged to regulate itself, or is statutory regulation necessary? In 1995, the government sought to impose statutory regulation and control of the media by initiating legislation to establish a Media Association of Zambia to regulate the ethical conduct of journalists. This institution would have a licensing system that would ensure that no media organization could operate without its staff subscribing to it. However, the government's decision to create such an institution was resisted by members of the media fraternity. Later, the government attempted to draft a Bill to allow for the establishment of a Media Council of Zambia (MCZ), with similar functions to those of the Media Association of Zambia. Again, the media fraternity prevented the Bill from being enacted into law. Thereafter, the Zambian media practitioners in recognition of the need for an ethical code of conduct, agreed to form a media-driven, independent, self-regulatory body that would promote press freedom and uphold the principles and standards of journalism. In 2004, the Media Council of Zambia (MECOZ) was formally launched with the pledge that it would uphold the highest professional conduct and ethics of journalism in Zambia. Its primary responsibility is media self- regulation without interference from government or judicial supervision. This directed research paper aims at investigating whether or not media ethics in Zambia can be best regulated by statutory control or by self-regulation.
Mass media --Law and legislation --Zambia