By Mthoniswa Banda
As the world media celebrates 30 years’ anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration which in 1991 adopted the landmark policy of development of a ‘free, independent and pluralistic media’ in all nations, Zambia which boasts of various media forms, has come a long way in achieving this truly free, independent and pluralistic media.
Made on May 3rd 1991, the Windhoek Declaration culminated in what is today known as the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), which the media religiously celebrates in honour of the achievements made pursuit of the a free, independent and pluralistic media sector and the challenges faced.
This year’s WPFD is being celebrated under the theme – Information as a Public Good – and serves to underscore the importance of ensuring that information is made available to all citizens and to all those seeking it. According to UNESCO, the theme recognises the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies and sustainable development.
UNESCO says the “theme serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.”
Ensuring that no-one is left behind in Zambia in terms of access to information should include review in the manner in which this information by media houses is distributed as content, TV signals, radio frequencies to Zambians seeking this information. For Zambians to be said to truly enjoy their media rights, that is freedom of information, free speech and unfettered access to media of their choice, these media channels need to be made accessible to those that seek them.
In a write up published last year, this author noted that accessing television services in Zambia after the much touted digital migration, had become the preserve of those that could afford decoders and the monthly subscription fee that came with them.
“Accessing television (TV), media services is no longer a simple matter of having a TV set in one’s home, no paying TV levy. No matter where and how many times you pay TV levy to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) you are still not guaranteed to have a TV signal and picture sent to your TV set,” this author wrote.
All these different television bouquets require one to have a decoder for without which no TV signal can reach one’s television set. This simply means for one to access DSTV, Top Star and Muvi TV one is required to have all decoders and dishes from these groups!
How did we get here and is this the new normal of access to information via the TV set?
He concludes “digital migration was never meant to create a digital TV divide of the haves and have not, us and the some of us while making it hard for lovers of TV to access their preferred television stations and favourable programmes. Digital migration was never meant to make the public broadcasters such as ZNBC, Education Services and Parliament TV inaccessible to the majority of Zambians, especially the poor and marginalised living outside the line of rail.”
A letter to dated 15 February 2020 by this author to Multi Choice Zambia and copied to the Zambian Government and Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), captures the many challenges as brought by the current digital migration stratification of Zambia.
In the letter the author writes, “The past two weeks, my family and I experienced first-hand how it feels to stay without TV in one’s home when TV subscription expires since we had exclusively invested in a DSTV Satellite dish and a DSTV Explorer decoder to enable us enjoy TV services.”
The letter says the habit of blacking out all channels, including free to air channels, when the subscription expires needed to stop. “I hope the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the Ministry of Information (MIBS) will take keen interest in the number of Zambians losing out of their TV information services because of this hijacking of digitalisation of services in Zambia,” wrote Mr. Mthoniswa Banda.
Zambia is still grappling with refining media laws that will improve access to information while professionalising the operations of the media through the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC). New laws like the Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Act have an impact in the way journalists operate online and how information is shared and received online via social media.
If information is to be treated as a public good, all impediments provided by blocking of access to signals, creation of new media laws and denying of critical voices to access media platforms either mainstream or online media needs to be reviewed.
For an important year as 2021, Zambia’s democracy and the choices of new leadership in parliament and our councils will largely depend on all voters having easy access to this public good, the information from the media.
As part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations, regional Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has called on media experts, journalists and citizens to tell their own stories on how this theme speaks to their desire to see information as a public good consumed without hindrance
The writer is a member of Zambia WPFD committee and a media and communication consultant working to build the journalist’s capacity to specialise in the coverage of specialised thematic areas of interest to readers and listeners.