LUSAKA: A five-member International Press Institute (IPI) delegation is in the country to help resolve differences between media practitioners and the Zambian government over planned media regulation.
Headed by acting director Alison Bethel McKenzie, the IPI delegation hopes that the visit will yield the desired results. The government has maintained its stance to regulate the media through an Act of parliament, while media practitioners advocate self-regulation.
Lack of progress on the issue has thus prompted the IPI to intervene, in a bid to end the stalemate cause by President Rupiah Banda's administration, which seems to be pandering to the gallery ahead of the 2011 general election.
IPI's press freedom advisor, Naomi Hunt says the delegation is here to, among other things, meet with Information Minister Lieutenant General Ronnie Shikapwasha to find common ground on the media regulation issue.
Another IPI objective is to raise awareness about the need for unfettered press freedom and to meet with media practitioners to discuss the media environment in Zambia and the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where regional governments seem bent on regulating the media.
Hunt said the delegation believes that self-regulation is the best way to go.
"Self regulation is definitely the best for the media. We are hoping to meet with the Information Minister and impress upon him the importance of self-regulation," Hunt said.
The IPI delegation was scheduled to also meet with various media groups, including the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA), the Press Freedom Committee of the Post newspaper
Recently Minister Shikapwasha reiterated that government would not change its stance on imposing statutory media regulation and would not listen to any external forces on the issue.
He urged organisations like the IPI to remain neutral and not dictate to government what should be done to the media in Zambia, as that would constitute "interference in the internal affairs" of a sovereign state.
The statement raised eyebrows among media practitioners who felt threatened by government's resolve to regulate the media.
Press Freedom Committee secretary general Sheik Chifuwe said the IPI intervention is a welcome development and should give the campaign for self-media regulation a new dimension.
"The IPI is worldwide organisation whose voice should help change attitude and fresh impetus to the campaign for self media regulation in Zambia and beyond," he said.
Last year government gave media groups a six-month ultimatum to come up with a self-regulatory mechanism, hence the formation of the Zambia Media Ethics Council (ZAMEC). But government has since u-turned.
ZAMEC, which was supposed to be launched on August 26, 2010, has since been shelved.
In Botswana, media houses with the support of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Botswana Chapter, have taken the Botswana government to court over what they term draconian Media Practitioners Bill.(Sila Press Agency)