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About: No Freedom to Broadcast?

Wed, 11 Mar 1998 08:37:43 -0800 (PST)

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    Originally dated: Wed, 11 Mar 1998 08:37:43 -0800 (PST)

    > This article was frist published in Edition 16 of Africa Film & TV,
    > Jan
    > - March 1998 and is posted with permission
    > No freedom to broadcast?
    > "It has become clear that the management of the national broadcasters
    > cannot be called upon to take the lead in regulation for local
    > content
    > and the development of our regional industry"
    > In 1998 we may see the beginning of the Southern African Development
    > Community (SADC) decade for Culture and Information. That is if the
    > council
    > of ministers adopts a draft document for the "formulation of
    > policies,
    > priorities and strategies for culture, information and public
    > education and awareness".
    > Among the recommended strategies in the report is the call for:
    > * Identification and repeal/amendment of all existing laws that
    > repress the media and restrict their operations;
    > * The creation of political and economic environments which
    > will
    > enable pluralistic media to flourish, including incentives to invest
    > in media enterprises, the granting of incentives and licenses to
    > establish radio and television stations;
    > * The promotion of indigenous culture through the provision of
    > more local content programming in mass media; and
    > * The expansion of the communications media infrastructure to
    > improve the quality and quantity of coverage by both government and
    > private
    > media, to include satellite communication for broadcasting,
    > multi-lingual
    > programming, viable community media and the development of internet
    > connectivity.
    > Has SADC and its member states renewed their commitment to the
    > principles
    > of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the
    > African
    > Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights? Or do they simply wish to
    > become
    > full
    > members of the international club of free nations? Media freedom is
    > certainly viewed by most 'northern' powers a pre-requisite to entry.
    > For example Malawi alone has received pledges of US$800 million in
    > financing over the next three years from the Paris Club, the grouping
    > of
    > donor governments of industrialised countries. Conditions set by the
    > donors
    > to qualify for the money include the sale of the state-controlled
    > radio
    > network and an extension of privatisation -- particularly in
    > telecommunications.
    > For whatever the real reason we have seen a concentration of activity
    > on
    > the media legislation front in 1997 and it seems to be heating up in
    > 1998,
    > with virtually all of the countries in southern Africa bringing in
    > new
    > legislation on the media and broadcasting front.
    > The Malawi Law Commissioner has re-opened consultations on the Malawi
    > Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Act, shelved since the elections. The
    > Act
    > will give the MBC programming and editorial independence from the
    > government for the first time. The new act together with two other
    > pieces
    > of legislation, one setting up a broadcasting/telecoms regulatory
    > body
    > and
    > the other de-regulating the telecommunications industry, are promised
    > in early 1998.
    > One setback is that the Malawi government has already started issuing
    > licenses before transparent licensing procedures are in place. One
    > can
    > only
    > assume that it is in order to give certain business interests an
    > unfair
    > advantage or to fill valuable frequencies with non-dissenting voices.
    > This
    > is a situation that will probably be familiar to those in Botswana,
    > Zambia,
    > Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the region where broadcasting reform is
    > underway.
    > This reform is not a straight forward process, in answering SADC and
    > donor
    > countries calls for comprehensive media policies and regulatory
    > systems,
    > many governments are using it as an opportunity to introduce
    > legislation
    > that may restrict and curb the expansion of independent media rather
    > than to assist it.
    > Last year the Botswana government released a Mass Media
    > Communications
    > Draft Bill. The bill would have established a separate broadcasting
    > board,
    > a state newspaper registration system, accreditation procedures as
    > well as
    > a legislated press council. Each of these bodies would have been
    > appointed
    > and managed by the government of Botswana through the Ministry of
    > Information which falls under the Office of the President. The draft
    > bill
    > sparked national and international protests. Media in Botswana
    > rejected it,
    > noting that it was "infringing and encroaching" on the right to
    > freedom of
    > expression and media freedom. After the protests the government
    > agreed
    > to
    > defer the legislation, apart from the plans to set up a broadcasting
    > board.
    > The Botswana government now intends to establish National
    > Broadcasting
    > Board, members of which will be appointed by either the president or
    > a
    > minister. Some members of the board will be representatives of
    > government
    > ministries. Neither the government nor other interested parties
    > should
    > have
    > positions on a regulatory board. As such, appointments to the
    > Botswana
    > broadcasting board by the president or minister fall short of
    > guaranteeing
    > a non-partisan administration of broadcasting in Botswana. The body
    > that
    > allocates licenses needs be independent of the government, and
    > members
    > should be appointed through a public process and be approved by a
    > parliamentary committee.
    > All the signs are that Malawi and Zimbabwean governments, who are
    > promising
    > legislation to set independent regulatory bodies early in 1998, will
    > also
    > interpret 'independent" in the same way as their Botswana
    > counterparts. It
    > is not yet know when Zambia will deliver on its 1996 media policy
    > promise
    > to introduce and independent broadcasting authority.
    > Late last year the Swaziland government also announced the
    > introduction of
    > a media bill aimed at introducing legal government control of public
    > and
    > private media operations. Swazi Television also attempt to restrict
    > access
    > to information by proposing to stop the re-transmission of the
    > signals
    > of
    > the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The official
    > reason
    > for
    > this proposal was economic and was withdrawn after strong public
    > protest.
    > Coming in the wake of a mass labour boycott in Swaziland, which in
    > part was
    > called to protest the media bill, it received wide criticism from
    > people
    > who viewed it as an attempt to prevent the coverage of the boycott
    > and
    > future political events in Swaziland. Swazi Television denied it was
    > stopping the service because of the SABC's full coverage of the
    > strike
    > (Swazi Television only carried restricted and heavily censored
    > coverage of the labour boycott).
    > No one will pretend that Swazi Television is independent of
    > government
    > control and influence. But at one stage people held out hope that the
    > leadership of the other government broadcasting corporations under
    > the
    > umbrella of The Southern Africa Broadcasting Association (SABA),
    > would
    > be
    > strong voices for reform. In 1995 SABA had passed an important policy
    > document, entitled "On the Move - Public broadcasting in Southern
    > Africa".
    > It stated many progressive principles for public broadcasting
    > including
    > those about access, balance and impartiality. Importantly, it also
    > called
    > for autonomous boards to govern the public broadcaster, appointed in
    > an
    > open and transparent manner, together with the establishment of
    > broadcasting regulatory bodies whose independence is guaranteed by
    > law.
    > Sadly, in 1995 SABA was still young and eager, now that it has
    > matured
    > as
    > an organisation, 'on the move' has become an 'on paper only' policy.
    > It is
    > quite clear that SABA is not moving anywhere. Here are some examples
    > of the
    > actions of SABA members during the last few months of 1997.
    > Part-time broadcaster for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)
    > Gerry
    > Jackson was sacked for broadcasting information on public
    > demonstrations
    > against a tax increase aimed at generating money for disgruntled
    > ex-fighters. The Zimbabwe government had announced a 5% War Veteran
    > Levy increases in sales tax on goods, fuel and electricity.
    > Mollande Nkhata, director of news and current affairs at the Malawi
    > Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), was also demoted to chief editor and
    > ordered to withdraw from media activism. In a letter handed to him on
    > 17
    > November 1997, Nkhata was also ordered to resign from the Malawi
    > chapter of
    > MISA of which he is chairman. He has also been ordered to dissociate
    > himself from the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ), the Media
    > Council of
    > Malawi (MCM) and the Journalists Association of Malawi (JAMA), or be
    > summarily dismissed from the MBC. Nkhata was being penalised for
    > allegedly
    > reporting the suggestion by the opposition newspaper The Daily Times
    > that
    > President Bakili Muluzi had lost his voice while at the Commonwealth
    > Heads of Government Meeting.
    > At least four journalists have either been fired or suspended from
    > the
    > national broadcasting station since the failed October 28 1997, coup
    > in
    > Zambia. On October 31, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation
    > (ZNBC)
    > management suspended announcer Loveday Haachiyumba for allegedly
    > speaking
    > approvingly of the coup by rebellious army officers. On November 3,
    > journalist Goretti Mapulanga, was dismissed from her job ostensibly
    > for
    > carrying out a 'vox pop' on the failed coup. Her husband Hopkings who
    > was
    > ZNBC regional manager was also asked to leave on the same day as
    > Goretti.
    > Earlier, senior broadcast journalists Kenneth Maduma and Wellington
    > Kalwisha were forced to retire.
    > Haachiyumba was one of the three journalists who were at gun point
    > forced
    > to operate broadcast equipment for the coup plotters on October 28.
    > He
    > claims to have been hit with a gun butt and ordered to speak
    > approvingly of
    > the coup on air or lose his life. He says he was ordered not to scare
    > the
    > public. The ZNBC management has refused to accept his explanation.
    > It has become clear that the management of the national broadcasters
    > can
    > not be called upon to protect or advocate for media freedom. Nor do
    > they
    > seem able to influence their own governments to assist in the
    > building
    > effective and efficient independent public broadcasters. Let alone
    > take the
    > lead in regulation for local content and the development of our
    > regional industry.
    > The independence of film makers themselves is now coming under threat
    > from
    > proposed legislation. As in the case of Namibia where the Ministry of
    > Information has circulated a draft Namibian Film Commission Bill
    > which
    > proposes that "No film producer or film production company shall be
    > allowed
    > to produce any type of film in Namibia, without a valid film
    > production
    > license". It also proposes that licenses should be issued for "each
    > individual film production". The only exemption from licensing are
    > certain
    > television programme productions "as from time to time determined by
    > the
    > commission". The penalty for not complying with the regulations would
    > be a
    > fine of N$ 2000 (US$ 455), and/or six months' imprisonment. There is
    > no
    > reason to believe that this is an isolated incident, with Zimbabwe
    > also
    > looking at new film legislation they could also use the opportunity
    > to
    > clamp down on media freedoms.
    > Even in South Africa, which many have held up as a model to the
    > region,
    > there are more and more cases of the government attempting to
    > restrict
    > media freedoms. Of note is the current threat to the autonomy of the
    > South
    > African IBA. The Ministry of Telecommunications and Broadcasting has
    > already taken over some of the authorities policy functions. They are
    > now
    > proposing to merge the IBA with the South African
    > Telecommunications
    > Regulatory Authority (SATRA), which is not independent of government
    > and answerable to the Minister.
    > All this means is it is up to media practitioners ourselves to keep
    > informed and inform others of the legislative process in our own
    > countries
    > and advocate directly for those policies which will benefit the
    > industry
    > and foster truly independent and pluralistic broadcasting.
    > John Barker, Regional Programme
    > Coordinator (Broadcasting)
    > Media Institute of Southern Africa
    > Private Bag 13386,
    > 21 Johann Albrecht Street
    > Windhoek, NAMIBIA
    > Tel: +264 61 232975 Fax +264 61 248016
    > E-mail
    > * *

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