Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) says there should be no room for media harassment in a democratic country like Zambia, which has adequate and clearly defined avenues for addressing perceived media prejudice.

Instead of taking the law into their hands, parties and individuals that feel aggrieved by the media should follow the law and the procedures laid down for complaints against the media.

Zambia has a number of statutory channels for handling disputes between media and their audiences. These include the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC). Unfortunately, some sections of society do not seem willing to have these bodies play their role, taking matters into their own hands instead, and in the process causing unnecessary commotion.

One such example is the recently reported harangue of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) staff by Patriotic Front (PF) lawmakers — Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili and Chongwe MP Sylvia Masebo.

Instead of approaching the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which is mandated by the law to look into these complaints, in line with its complaints procedure which any aggrieved party need to follow whenever they feel misrepresented or unhappy with a media house’s content or programming, the lawmakers decided to deal with ZNBC directly.

Equally, the broadcasting media that have been unfairly treated by the public needs to also take the same route and complaint with the IBA or Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) whenever their staff is harassed. When the type of harassment borders on criminality, such as assault, they need to take the matter to the police or to the courts of law.

Media houses have the responsibility to serve the public interest, and not to misrepresent any facts, so as to meet certain political interests.

The run up to any election usually arouses certain emotions, and it is the responsibility of the media to manage this emotional time and avoid unnecessary chaos. PSAf urges the media to maintain high levels of professionalism, as the political campaign period peaks and as there is a high level of temptation to take sides with one’s favourite political party or candidate. The media should also avoid the use of terms or expressions that could raise alarm in the society. Inasmuch as political temperatures may be rising, the media should be the voice of reason, helping people to focus on issues and encouraging to exercise their democratic rights without any fear or favour.

As professional media, there is need to clearly distinguish between paid for political advertorials, comments and news so that the reader or listener is left with no doubt as to the neutrality of the news items they are seeing or reading.

Editors and their boards need to stand firm and protect their junior reporters and staff from political patronage during this political time.

It is for this reason that PSAf commends the ZNBC board, for coming to the defense of their staff, following the harassment they received from the PF lawmakers.

PSAf is also encouraging political parties taking part in the presidential election to educate their cadres and supporters on the importance of allowing the media to do their work, even if the media reports would not be to their liking or favour.

Press statement by Lilian Kiefer, Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf). Originally published here.