November 4, 2002

New "Draconian" Media Bill?

The government's proposed Independent Media Broadcasting Authority Bill is draconian and takes back our fragile democracy to the dark ages, Lusaka Central FDD member of parliament Dipak Patel has said.

Reacting to the notice by government to publish three media Bills for introduction in Parliament in November 3, Patel said the move was meant to bulldoze the private members' media reform bills. "In one of the provisions in the Bills, the government in the event of a state of emergency would take over all broadcasting stations and control and direct all broadcasting services from the broadcasting stations," Patel said. "Even under the Kaunda and Chiluba regimes there were state of emergencies but never did government take over broadcasting stations or control what was being broadcast. This is rather too draconian and extreme."

The proposed media reform Bills which has attracted the greatest condemnation is the Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill of 2002. The proposed Bill which have since been circulated to all members of parliament, in its section 32 and subsection 1 which deals with powers of the President in an public, the "President may make a state of emergency authorising an officer or an authority to take over broadcasting stations in Zambia, and control and direct all broadcasting services from the broadcasting stations or broadcasting station for so long as the President considers it expedient."

"When an officer or an authority is authorised to take over a broadcasting station in terms of subsection 1m the person owning or controlling the broadcasting station shall give up possession to the President or officer or authority, and the person employed in working or maintaining the broadcasting station or in carrying on broadcasting service from the broadcasting station shall, if the President in terms of that subsection requires their exclusive services, diligently and faithfully obey, during the period the broadcasting station is in possession of the officer or authority all such orders and other directions as the officer or authority may give in connection with the working or maintenance of the broadcasting station or carrying on of broadcasting services from the broadcasting station," Section 32 subsection 2 reads with the next subsection giving guidelines to the compensation due to the media owners in such an event.

Patel observed that the government versions of the media reform Bills did not contain any commitment towards transforming the state owned and government controlled Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation into an independent and free public broadcaster. "It is obvious for me and all the right thinking Zambians that the government and the Minister of Information and Broadcasting have every intent to keep ZNBC under government control, we must put an end to this once and for all," Patel said. He said the people of Zambia were aware that the government had only come up with the three Bills at the last minute just to stop the private member' media reform Bills. "They should not be allowed to succeed," Patel further said. He has since called on all media institutions and the general public to join hands and put pressure on the government to remove the draconian intent. (The Post, Lusaka)

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