Commentaries and Analyses Index

Defending Our Free And Critical Press

LUSAKA, May 4 - It's very difficult for us to understand why some of our leaders who showed so much commitment to the defence of a free, independent and robustly critical press before they got into politics today are hostile towards the press.

It is really worrying that so many years after attaining our independence, our politicians still harass journalists for no other reason than carrying out their legitimate duties.

We are equally also very concerned about the intimidation of journalists and the persistent violation of freedom of expression which denies our people the opportunity to participate in democratic debate towards solving the many problems facing our country.

We are concerned that after so many years of independence, freedom of the press and its inalienable right to be our critic and mirror is still under threat.

This is not to say our politicians should not take issue with the media when they regard it as appropriate without in any way implying a right on their part to infringe on the freedom of the press. They have the right, as part of the democratic process, to take vigorous issues with the media.

We honour and respect institutions and individuals that advance, promote and defend press freedom in our country.

Vigorous debate, in the various public forums available, should be allowed to continue to be the lifeblood of our struggles for social, political and economic advancement.

We are saying all these things so that on the one hand it is not imagined that the role of the media in advancing and sustaining democracy is something that we are to be taught by Western agents; and on the other hand that we remain conscious and reminded of how crucial that role of the media is.

The role of the media in sustaining the democratic struggle is well understood. How the forces of democratic governance and a civil society interact is the challenge we face and have to work through as a continuing and dynamic process.

There is an old saying that freedom and order are constantly in tension with one another in society. Order without freedom leads to totalitarianism. Freedom without order leads to anarchy. It is also said that societies recover quicker and more healthily from too much freedom than they do from totalitarianism.

If all of this sounds too abstract, let us then say it in simpler terms.

We would hope that our media develops a greater professional integrity and responsibility. Be critical guardians of democracy and freedom, but respect their audiences, the targets of their criticism and reporting, but above all else its own integrity as a social institution.

In the end, it demeans all of us in society if one picks up a newspaper and disbelieves its stories at the start, waiting for further proof before one gives credence to it. Or, if one detects basic flaws in stories and reports that could have been easily corrected by good basic journalism and editing.

But above all we are saying: we Zambians should put the freedom of our press and media at the top of our priorities. None of our irritations with the perceived inadequacies of the media should ever allow us to even suggest faintly that the independence of the press could be compromised or coerced.

It is said that 'a bad free press is preferable to a technically good subservient press'. This should be the future path of our government and our people.

For journalists, our role should be to ensure that journalism of quality plays its role in the future of our troubled and poverty stricken country.

Active participation of citizens in shaping policy and decision making of their country is impossible if their own government continued to deny them the rights necessary to ensure such participation.

It is sad that we continue to retain pre-independence anti-media and anti-freedom of expression legislation that the colonial governments used to legitimise their incarceration of journalists and freedom fighters in that era. And with forty years of our country's independence, no significant progress has been made towards the freedom of the press.

We therefore lend our voice to the numerous calls that have been made to our political leaders to repeal all anti-media legislation and recognise the importance of a free press, freedom of expression and other associated rights as vital ingredients necessary to build a free, democratic and prosperous nation.

And only when this is done will all our efforts at development have real meaning for our people.

It is extremely important to see the critical importance of the freedom of the press in the process of development, but it is also necessary to seek ways and means of expanding its reach and securing its effective functioning.

Press freedom deserves our strongest support, but the press has obligations as well as entitlements. Indeed, the freedom of the press defines both a right and a duty, and we have good reason to stand up for both.

The Post / allAfrica Global Media

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