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National Constitution Conference executive committee issues proposal to ban media from covering its proceedings

(MISA/IFEX) - On 2 February 2009, the Executive Committee of the National Constitution Conference (NCC) proposed that the media in Zambia be banned from covering proceedings of the NCC, a body mandated to examine, debate and adopt proposals for the alteration of the constitution.

Members of the Executive Committee of the NCC argued that the media had on several occasions misrepresented facts as they reported on the proceedings, which are beamed live on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and repeated on the same television station in the evening.

The NCC was established by the National Constitution Conference Act No. 19 of 2007 and allows the NCC to add, remove or confirm provisions of the draft Constitution.

According to a 3 February report in "The Post" newspaper, Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) trustee Mtumbi Goma complained that he had been misquoted by a "Zambia Daily Mail" reporter and added that, in the previous week, a Muvi TV reporter also misquoted one of the commissioners.

The Lands Committee of the NCC also barred reporters without stating reasons why the media could not cover their proceedings. The reporters were only allowed entry when the proceedings of the Lands Committee debates were coming to an end.

A NCC committee member, Request Muntanga, has accused "The Post" of writing negatively about the NCC.

"From everything that came out of the meeting, I know what you are going to write, (and) it's only the negative things about the NCC. In fact, that is why we intend to bar you from covering the NCC," Muntanga told a reporter.

According to research undertaken by MISA Zambia, the NCC Act empowers committees under the NCC to hold their deliberations in camera if the matter is considered sensitive. However, the Act provides for media coverage, including live coverage, of the proceedings by media institutions that the NCC has deemed to be important and that have agreed to air such programming. MISA Zambia Chairperson Henry Kabwe called for tolerance and dialogue between NCC committee members and the media so that outstanding issues may be ironed out. He said the right of Zambians to access key information on the constitution-making process from the NCC could not be overlooked in the face of issues that could be addressed through dialogue.

"We believe that the NCC committee members, as representatives of the Zambian people, must strive to do their work above board and address any media shortcomings using amicable solutions that will not take away the right of the Zambian people to be informed," Kabwe said.

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