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Give voluntary media self-regulation a try, says IPI

(IPI/IFEX) - LUSAKA, 15 October 2010 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today appealed to the Zambian government to respect the principle of voluntary self-regulation of the media.

IPI believes the government should support the launch of the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) as a voluntary, self-regulatory body, by refraining from forcing public media to withdraw their membership.

"While we are delighted that Zambia's vice president and its minister of information are willing to enter into discussions concerning media regulation, we urge them to reconsider their position that the regulatory body be statutory," said Alison Bethel McKenzie, Acting Director of IPI.

"We believe voluntary regulation would work in Zambia under the ZAMEC constitution because of the inclusive process by which it was created, which included both private and public media. We were encouraged also by the firm commitment to ZAMEC expressed by journalists across the board in our meetings with them," said Bethel McKenzie, who was joined in Zambia by Raymond Louw, chairman of the South African Press Council, editor of Southern Africa Report and an IPI Fellow; and Raheem Adedoyin, board chairman of the Kwara State Television Authority and secretary of the IPI National Committee in Nigeria.

Following a week of productive talks with journalists, journalism organisations and with Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Lt. Gen. Ronnie Shikapwasha, IPI has found that there is a need for greater understanding between the ministry and the media fraternity on the value of voluntary self-regulation. IPI is calling on Minister Shikapwasha to seriously review the measures already adopted by the media to address government concerns that the proposed voluntary council will not be able to enforce its self-imposed regulations.

Beyond the matter of regulation, journalists also voiced concerns over the delay in implementing the Independent Broadcasting Authority Amendment Act.

With Zambia's general elections only a year away, IPI believes it is particularly important that the media not be subjected to undue restriction through the imposition of a statutory body responsible to government. IPI is particularly concerned at the government's suggestion that a statutory body should have a hand in the approval and registration of journalists. Like editorial content, the hiring practices of media houses should be set in the newsroom and not externally.

While IPI appreciates the ministers' stated concerns about the effectiveness of voluntary self-regulation, the organization believes an interim period of at least one year after the launch of ZAMEC will demonstrate that voluntary self-regulation is an effective model for regulation of the Zambian media.

"We were delighted with the minister's willingness to discuss these issues, and with the media fraternity's solidarity and receptiveness to compromise, and are convinced that a solution can be arrived at that benefits all parties, most of all the people of Zambia," said Raheem Adedoyin, Secretary of the IPI Nigeria National Committee.

"In my capacity as chairman of the South Africa Press Council, I've been very impressed by the steadfastness of the Zambian press as a whole in upholding the principle that media should regulate itself," said Raymond Louw, who is also an IPI Fellow. "I add my appeal to that of IPI that the minister should allow the Zambia Media Council to put into operation a self-regulatory system for a minimum period of a year."

IPI is committed to building lasting relationships with all media stakeholders in Zambia and to contributing in any way it can to the country's own efforts to further improve its already robust media environment.

The IPI delegation to Zambia included:
- Alison Bethel McKenzie, Acting Director, IPI
- Nayana Jayarajan, Communications Officer, IPI
- Naomi Hunt, Press Freedom Adviser for the Middle East & Africa, IPI
- Raymond Louw, South Africa, IPI Fellow; Chairman of the South Africa Press Council; Publisher of the Southern Africa Report
- Raheem Adedoyin, Nigeria, Secretary of the IPI National Committee in Nigeria; Board Chairman of the Kwara State Television Authority

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