WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY – BY HAKAINDE HICHILEMA

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Country men and women, this year’s theme for World Press Freedom day “Media Freedom for a better future: Shaping the Post 2015 Development Agenda” should be properly situated by everyone especially by those in power.

It is undeniable that the press plays a critical role in a country’s governance as well as development agenda. This is why the Media is called the Fourth Estate, not as a “buzz” phrase. But as a critical component through which the three arms of government, that is, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary can effectively dialogue with the civil society.

The profile of the media in the governance system, therefore, calls for a responsible media that is accountable to the people. Accountability calls for very high standards of professionalism. A free and professional press enables Government to deliver the right goods and services to its population because the press will reflect on the actual needs of the citizens.

In the words of the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon, “journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues – from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peacebuilding. Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist.”

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow country men and women, in 2013, the world press freedom index placed Zambia at 72 out of 179 countries. Within a year, Zambia has fallen 21 places to 93 out of 180 countries showing that Zambia’s press freedom record is declining. This status should worry anyone that cares about the plight of the press men and women in Zambia and the future if the media. The sad thing is that sections of the press have forgotten why they are in the media industry. They have been fomenting this closure of the press freedom space on the pretext of protecting the Zambian citizens from what they term rogue media. There is nothing like rogue media, instead where news outlets are gagged, alternatives are created. Those alternatives will not have the ability to regulate themselves because they exist outside the norm. This happens even in economics, when the economy is highly regulated, the black market thrives. This is what is happening in Zambia’s media today where journalists are not free to practice; as a result alternatives have emerged. We might not like them, but they are there because of demand by the citizens.

Now is the time for the media, to take their rightful place in this country. Public debate and discourse will only be meaningful if the media makes efforts to be professional, responsible and accountable. At the same time the Government must not act as guardians for the media. Instead, they must let the media account for their own actions by facilitating an environment that will ensure professionalism and accurate reporting. Whoever lives outside their agreed code, will have the citizens to deal with.

I have in mind the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill and the new republican Constitution. The Government is not getting the full pulse of the nation because the current media landscape is tilted towards propaganda. How does Government know what is a priority and not? If this legislative framework can be addressed, we can be assured of the right service from the media.

Have great World Press Freedom Day friends from the media.

I thank you.

Hakainde Hichilema
UPND President

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