Press freedom and Democracy

Filed under: Special Comments |

By Hope Nyambe

Many politicians around the world, and more so in Africa like to toil around with the concept press freedom and of democracy. There is an almost intrinsic tendency by politicians to justify their actions or pronouncements as ordains from the majority under their leadership. In most cases, this is far from the truth.

The concept of “democracy” as understood by many people means a form of government in which a significant quota of the governed society have a mandate to elect members of a governing elite. The governing elite act as proxies for the people in formal parliamentary discussions to reach agreed ends. While flaws exist in all democratic systems of government, most advocates accept the aphorism that democracy is the least dictatorial of all systems of government. And for this to be the case, there are certain tenets that have to be present and exercised within democratic functionalities and structures.

One of these tenets is that of Press freedom. As increasing numbers of citizens gain access to a wider variety of media as a source for news and information on public life, the media provides a platform for competing ideas with all players free to attempt to persuade others to agree or to oppose certain view points. For this process to be successful, it requires that accurate and uncensored information, outlining contrasting points of view on current and variant issues is available for public scrutiny and consumption.

Unfortunately, that has not always been the case. Most ‘democratic’ governments still retain a strangle hold on what media houses both private and public can disseminate to the general public. This is mainly done through constitutional provisions or legislative acts that either restrict independent media licensing, blocks free dissemination of media content or threatens both the public and media practitioners of victimisation.

Looking at the Zambian scenario, there are countless examples of this. Recently in a cabinet meeting, President Michael Sata openly castigated former Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Emmanuel Mwamba for issuing nationwide radio licences to Radio Phoenix and QFM, while Muvi TV was given a nationwide television licence.

The licences were revoked and Emmanuel Mwamba subsequently retired ‘in national interest.’  Other examples include gay rights activist, Paul Kasonkomona, being immediately arrested after appearing on a television programme calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Other public figures such as Godfrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) and Fr. Frank Bwalya have been physically impeded from appearing in the media.

Of course most governments will argue that Press freedom like all other freedoms should be enjoyed within the entitlements and limitation as dictated by national interest. The irony of such an argument lies in the fact that the wealth of information required to make an informed decision is stringently and biasedly controlled by the Government. How then does the general public define national interest when divergent, accurate and uncensored information is curtailed?

Ask any dictator, the first requirement to winning ‘democratic’ elections is controlling the media and its content.


One Response to Press freedom and Democracy

  1. Well said.

    tima savarino
    January 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

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