Zambia’s New Media Council: Is it Another Toothless Bulldog?

For a long time now, the Zambian media and the public have searched for a credible organ to act as a self-regulatory mechanism that will keep all players under responsible check.

A battle between the MMD government and the media ensued the last four years as to what between self-regulation or statutory regulations were the best form to develop a responsible but effective media for the country.

It was primarily a catfight between Post owner Fred M’membe (for self-regulation) and then vice-president George Kunda in the MMD government (for statutory regulation).

Ironically, Kunda and M’membe had a background which once saw them share the same podium – The Post – through which they contributed to public discourse sometime in the mid 1990s. Kunda was then Law Association of Zambia president.

A decade later, they were on opposite ends pursuing an agenda both claimed was in the interest of public. Kunda had argued that the journalism profession had been invaded by crooks in particular reference to M’membe’s Machiavellian style of operation.

To fight his battle, M’membe sought an alliance that would launder him in the eyes of the public. He mobilised the Press Association of Zambia, Misa Zambia, Non-governmental organisations and some donors to portray a united force on behalf of the public.

Through his self-created Press Freedom Committee of the Post, M’membe ensured he called the shots of how self-media regulations would operate by playing a key, if not the most important one, in what emerged as the Media Liaison Committee.

Former Zambia Daily Mail news editor Amos Chanda, as PAZA vice-president, was identified as M’membe’s pawn to take on government officials in the battle for self-regulations. Chanda was on M’membe’s payroll and was later rewarded with a position in
President’s Sata PF media team as deputy spokesperson before he was flashed out into foreign service as first secretary for press at the Zambian mission in the UK. He deserved the reward, Chanda had taken on then information minister Ronnie Shikapwasha and fought battles for M’membe.

Through the Press Freedom Committee of the Post, M’membe effectively used his former managing director Amos Malupenga (now information permanent secretary), former news editor Chansa Kabwela (now first secretary to Malawi) and George Chellah (Sata’s spokesperson) to press a campaign of self-regulation. They tactfully, though effective, pushed their agenda using a variety of strategy oblivious to George Kunda and his team.
On the other hand Kunda relied on parliament and a beauracratic team that often leaked his plans that was due for consideration in parliament.

M’membe through his team successfully demonstrated to the public and donors that statutory regulation was repugnant and aimed at curtailing the fundamental human right of free speech.

Kunda and government’s argument that statutory regulation was aimed at toning the language of a seemingly stubborn M’membe who called government officials “idiots”, “stupid”, “hyenas,” “scoundrels” in his venomous editorial comments was met with a lot of opposition.

Today, Kunda is no more. He died in opposition and M’membe’s wish, scheme and plan of a self-regulatory mechanism is in motion.

A few weeks ago, a respected clergyman Bishop Paul Mususu was unveiled as chairman of the Zambia Media Council (Zamec) National Governing Council.

Prominent in his NGC are Rumbidzai Mutasa, LAZ, Andrew Sakala (PAZA), Kenny Makungu (UNZA lecturer), Mickie Mumba (UNFP), Swithen Hangala and Mulenga Kabiki (Zamcom journalism lecturer).

There is also Lee Habasonda, Sister Sililo Nawa, Non-Governmental Organisation Coordinating Council executive director Engwase Mwale and Susan Musukuma.

Clearly, the composition of the NGC is filled with “boys and girls” that worship M’membe, if not on his payroll. Mickie Mumba, Lee Habasonda, Engwase Mwale and Susan Musukuma feed off M’membe.

Their survival solely depends or is controlled by M’membe and whatever the case, this ZAMEC, is his brainchild whose decisions will have very little to control the largely gutter journalism he has practiced since his newspaper was launched in 1991.

While it may be too early and Mususu’s board is settling into office, they have a test – a clear case of irresponsible journalism – to deal with in relations to The Post.
In its agenda to cause the public to rise against former president Rupiah Banda, the newspaper has recently published total fabrications that can only pass as figment of their own imaginations to satisfy their PF aligned position.

While former first led Thandiwe Banda was still away in the United States of America, The Post published an alleged feud between the former first couple alleging it had been triggered by the loss of US $30, 000 from their New Kasama bedroom.

A follow up article was published prompting Rupiah to reveal that, in fact, his wife had remained behind to the US and it was impractical for the couple to quarrel over the alleged missing money when one of them was not in the country.

The Zambia Police, from whose pool The Post attributed their fictitious articles, has since denied it ever handled such a matter and they went further to personally write Rupiah on the matter offering their apology. In his egoistic and stubborn manner, M’membe sees no harm in continuing business as usual without offering Rupiah the unreserved apology he deserves for the damage such a publication may have caused.

As if that was not enough, M’membe recently published another article suggesting former Rupiah’s press aide Dickson Jere and Kennedy Limwanya were on the hunt for the video that captured President Michael Sata’s gibberish attacks at former US president George W Bush.

Jere responded; “I refer to your article entitled “Rupiah hunts for Sata, Bush footage”, which appeared in your Monday edition. In the said article, you mentioned me, Dickson Jere, as one of those who had been tasked by the former President to search for the footage.

“For the record, I have been out of the country for a while, including the period when ex-president George Bush was in Zambia. I am, therefore, not privy to the letters, press releases and counter press statements involving State House and the Office of the Former President.

“If your reporter did a little investigations, he would have realized that I have not contacted any reporter in [the] recent past concerning the footage or any other matter.
“I would be glad if you could clarify this issue with your readers that I [am] not involved in whatever is going on concerning the Bush apology, press releases and all!”

Typical of the garbage that M’membe’s publication spews especially from the time he traded The Post’s integrity for personal, political and financial survival.

This is what Mususu is expected to deal with. While The Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia may be state owned and PF controlled, both institutions display some levels of journalism that The Post does not march.

It will be interesting to see how Mususu’s ZAMEC will deal with both The Post and the Daily Nation. They are perceived independent but both seem to serve particular interest.That is why the future of ZAMEC does not look promising as it may just end up like the previous body – MECOZ – which M’membe did not have time for. ZAMEC is just another MECOZ in the form of the PF engineered media body.

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