|Written by Gershom Ndhlovu|
|Of late, the issue of compelling media organisations and journalists to join the Media Ethics Council of Zambia (MECOZ) and the threat of statutory regulation of the media has been quite hot.|
I am one of those who feel that MECOZ has gone off the rails and I wish to point out that there is no need for extrastatutory regulation of the media because the laws that are in place are adequate.
Unfortunately, I do not have ready access to the laws of Zambia, but from what I can recall off-hand, there is the supreme law, the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, which guides every citizen.
The piece of law that sends a chill down the spine of every journalist is the official secrets Act which carries a minimum sentence of 25 years. This mainly guides matters of security of the nation.
Then there is the Penal Code which prescribes crimes and penalties thereof. Under this law, there is criminal libel and defamation as well as sedition to which any journalist is liable if he or she breaks the law. Anyone who feels that a journalist has criminally defamed someone or has committed an act of sedition is free to report him or her to the police.
There is also the law of civil libel and defamation for individuals who feel that a newspaper has written untruthfully about them. Such people are free to sue in their individual capacities to seek compensation for any damage caused them by such publications. A lot of people have invoked this right and many a newspaper has paid the price to an extent of even folding up.
Then there is the law of copyright. No journalist in his right frame of mind can go about lifting published or unpublished materials without attributing to that source. Infringement of copyright can be treated both as a civil or criminal matter.
As I am recalling these laws from memory, I may have forgotten some of the laws and may have misrepresented what they exactly state. However, the point is that there are enough laws in the land dealing with how the media should operate. Our ministers, members of parliament and politicians in general should not even waste time making a piece of law regulating the media when they can invoke the above laws if anyone breaks the law.
One thing for sure is that MECOZ has lost credibility to an extent where it needs serious sprucing if it has to stand with its head high. The people behind it need to go back to the drawing board and start afresh, recapturing the spirit for which it was initiated just over a decade ago. Lecturing on what stories a newspaper should cover, how it should write them and what words should be used, is not in their ambit.
**This post appeared as a letter to the editor in The Post of 19/05/2009.