Overcoming challenges to Media Freedom

By Francis Maingaila

Lusaka, Zambia24 (27-02-2024) – Media freedom, crucial for democracy, promotes transparency, accountability, and diverse viewpoints. However, in Zambia, this freedom encounters obstacles due to various laws and regulations.

Jane Chirwa, program manager at the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), outlined these challenges during a two-day Advocacy Capacity Building workshop.

She underscored the pivotal role legislation plays in either promoting or hindering media freedom, citing several problematic laws in Zambia, including the Penal Code, the State Security Act and vaguely defined cyber security laws.

Chirwa cautioned that authorities might exploit these laws to monitor, censor, or prosecute journalists and online content creators critical of the government.

Despite legal protections, journalists often confront harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests when covering sensitive topics.

Chirwa noted the chilling effect of selective law enforcement on investigative journalism and public discourse, worsened by expanding digital surveillance capabilities.

Despite these challenges, she maintained optimism about civil society’s role in advocating for legislative reforms and supporting journalists.

However, she cautioned that despite laws ostensibly protecting media freedom, political interference and selective enforcement undermine their effectiveness.

In the digital age, new challenges emerge, such as the broad powers granted to authorities under the Zambia Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ZICTA) Act, raising concerns about online censorship and surveillance.

Such regulations not only restrict information flow but also compromise digital privacy and online expression.

While legal frameworks exist to safeguard media freedom, Chirwa regretted the selective application and new digital challenges impede progress.

“Nevertheless, concerted advocacy efforts offer hope for a more open and free media environment in Zambia,” she said.

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