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In South Africa, the transitional period from the apartheid regime to democracy began with a watershed speech to Parliament by the then State President FW de Klerk on 2 February 1990, in which he announced the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, the unbanning of the organisations of the democratic movement and the phasing out of minority rule.
In the field of media the debate, not surprisingly, focussed first and foremost on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The SABC had started out as a public broadcaster, replicating the BBC model. After the National Party came into power in 1948, it progressively tightened its control over the organisation. By the end of the 1950s the SABC had been turned into a government propaganda machine.
In August 1990, two thousand South Africans marched to the SABC under banners reading: "The People Shall Broadcast!" and "Democratise Radio and Television!". "The battle of the airwaves had begun", writes Willy Currie, one of the main proponents of the movement for broadcasting reform1. The march was in response to the setting up of a Task Group on Broadcasting by the government in March 1990. This Task Group was seen as part of de Klerk's strategy to win - against all probability - the first non-racial elections. If that first prize was not to be won, then the new dispensation was at least to provide the white minority with the power to veto any decision unfavourable to their interests. The broadcasting industry was key to this plan, and the SABC in particular - the then president wanted to retain as much control over the broadcaster as possible.
The Film and Allied Workers Organisation (FAWO) which spearheaded the reform movement rejected the Task Group. The union criticised that the Group was not representative of South African society, comprised mainly people with significant vested interests in the industry (the Chairman of the Group, Christo Viljoen, also happened to be the Chairman of the SABC), and that it was to work behind closed doors. The emerging campaign set itself three main goals:
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The campaign recognised that only political organisations are capable of making decisions on public political matters. Therefore it had to link itself into the transition process dominated by the two major power blocs - the African National Congress and the NP. Consequently, civil society organisations clustered around these power centres in order to influence the policy direction of `their' side. In regard to broadcasting, FAWO, the Campaign for Open Media (COM) and a community radio lobby group tried to impact - successfully - on the ANC. On the other side, the SABC, Telkom, the subscription TV channel M-Net and others targeted the NP.
While the power struggle was in its first stages, the SABC - in accordance with the wider NP strategy - took practical steps. To preempt an assumed take-over of the corporation by the ANC, it restructured itself, in 1991, into separate business divisions and autonomous radio and television stations - a move seen by the campaign as a first step towards commercialisation and privatisation of the SABC.
The suspicion that the ANC wanted to replace the NP as the political master of the SABC was not too far-fetched. At that stage the ANC was still very much in a state-interventionist mood. Some leading figures argued that if the majority, "the people", brought the ANC to power, then "the people" also had the right to control the SABC - "the people" in this case being represented by the ruling party. And the staff of the ANC's exile broadcaster "Radio Freedom" had a particular interest in their party gaining control of the SABC: since their return from exile, they were without jobs.
It was necessary, therefore, for the campaign to pursue a two-pronged strategy. While recognising the ANC as the only partner which could successfully push for a broadcasting reform during the negotiations, it was necessary to minimise its influence on the campaign itself. In November 1992, a Campaign for Independent Broadcasting (CIB) was launched, a coalition of broad cultural and political interests: FAWO, COM, trade unions of journalists, writers and printers, the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Council of Churches (SACC), the Democratic Party, the Communist Party - and the ANC. Thus, the ANC was integrated as one of many players, and the campaign was put on a broad foundation of organisations representing the majority of listeners and viewers.
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The major channel for the input from the campaign was the multi-party Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), the central forum of negotiations on the future of the country. With broadcasting on the agenda of Codesa, it became impossible for the government of the day to introduce any changes to the broadcasting sector unilaterally. The importance this was accorded is evident from Nelson Mandela's autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom" in which he lists the main problem areas for Codesa: "the question of creating a free political climate, the future of the homelands, the restructuring of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the examination of various constitutional principles such as federalism, and the creation and installation of an interim government".
Based on discussions held in various workshops since 1990, the major demands presented to Codesa were the establishment of an Interim Independent Communication Authority as a broadcast regulator during the transition period, the appointment of a new, representative SABC Board, and the formation of a Task Force to look into reforms in the print media field. The NP countered these demands by proposing a Media Ethics Complaints Tribunal to ensure the neutrality of SABC - while retaining the old SABC Board. The party also proposed to extend the powers of the existing Media Council to include broadcasting matters. This Council was essentially in the hands of the four press groups in the country which were controlled by the NP and (white) mining conglomerates. The idea, obviously, was to maintain influence over the SABC even after a change in government.
In view of the increasing mountain of demands, proposals and counter-proposals it became necessary to professionalise the work of the campaign. From mid-92 a core group of three legal experts, assisted by an international expert, spearheaded activities and developed a detailed broadcasting policy. This envisaged an independent broadcasting authority as a regulator for a three-tier broadcasting system, consisting of a truly independent public broadcaster, commercial broadcasters and a community broadcasting sector.
Many questions needed to be answered. The most urgent and crucial one, however, was the control of the SABC, which had to be transformed well before the first democratic elections. The term of the existing SABC board happened to expire at the end of March 1993 - which put time pressure on the negotiators. The NP government, though still clinging to power, began to realise that they were most likely to lose the unavoidable `one man one vote' poll. With that in mind, they wanted to make it impossible for the new government, that of the ANC, to use the SABC in the way they had done over four decades: as its propaganda machine. The ANC, on the other side, wanted to take the SABC out of the hands of the ruling party as early as possible, so that it could not be used to their disadvantage during the election campaign. Both sides, then, though for very different reasons, saw the need for putting an end to state control over the SABC.
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Several models were put up for debate. At an early stage the idea was that a board to supervise the SABC should consist of representatives of all political parties involved in the Codesa negotiation process - some 25 of them. During a short seminar on this issue - in fact, it took little over two hours - a former Director General of the biggest German public broadcasting corporation made a convincing case against going this route: he simply told the audience about his experiences over the years with delegates from political parties on his board, about their unashamed bias, their faction fighting, their permanent interference. The idea of equal party-political representation was dropped there and then and, what was more, it was suggested that office bearers of a political party or the state should not be eligible to serve on such a board. This proposal was later accepted and made into law.
Other alternatives were discussed, international experiences compared, the pros and cons of several models debated. In all these models, parliament plays a decisive role. It was evidently impossible, however, to allow the apartheid parliament to appoint a new board. From January 1993, the CIB, the ANC and the government negotiated a way of establishing an independent appointment panel to select members for the new SABC board.
In April 1993 - the old board's lifetime had been extended by two months - it was decided that the first board of a truly public broadcaster was to be selected by a panel of high judges, magistrates and lawyers. One of the leading figures in the small group behind the scenes which organised the panel was a member of the core three-person team spearheading the reform on behalf of the CIB (thus maintaining a channel of information). The panel invited the public - individuals and organisations - by way of advertisements to nominate candidates for the board. More than 700 nominations were received. The panel then drew up a shortlist of 86 people to be interviewed in public hearings - the first open hearings for public office in South African history.
All the names were published and the general public was encouraged to express their views on the candidates or suggest what questions they would like to put to them. These comments were then used in the hearings where all nominees were thoroughly grilled - the hearings took a week, broadcast live on radio and TV. The panel then decided on the final list which was - for presumably unavoidable legal reasons - forwarded to the State President for approval and formal appointment. FW de Klerk refused to accept seven out of the 25 names, claiming that they did not comply with some of the guidelines agreed upon, in particular the one that stipulated that persons with "a high political profile of a partisan nature" were not eligible. Among them were Prof. Njabulo Ndebele, suggested as Chairman and at the time vice-rector of the University of the Western Cape, as well as Allister Sparks and Raymond Louw, both former editors of the `Rand Daily Mail'. To be sure, all three had been outspoken opponents and a thorn in the side of the apartheid regime for many years, but they certainly could not be seen as being aligned to a political party.
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To make matters worse, their rejection was not official but communicated through private channels. The selection panel gave in and proposed seven replacements which were accepted. A huge public outcry followed. Nelson Mandela in particular was furious because de Klerk had retracted from an agreement that he was only to rubber-stamp the judges' decision. After a long period of confusion, the Chairman nominated by de Klerk (van Zyl Slabbert) resigned, and thus made way for the board to elect - in August 1993 - its own chairperson (Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri).
Despite the hiccups: a new SABC board was in place, nine months before the first democratic elections, and one which enjoyed the reputation of being independent from government - this, at least, was the "sufficient consensus", a catchphrase of the times. The board appointed a new management team with Zwelake Sisulu at the helm, former publisher of the weekly "New Nation" which had been banned under apartheid, son of Walter Sisulu. Because of the fact that he belonged to one of the "royal families" of the ANC, suspicions arose that he was going to bring the SABC under strict control of the future ruling party. Instead he turned out to be fiercely independent - sometimes using a simple trick as he admits himself. Because he would have found it very difficult to decline suggestions or demands from Mandela, he regularly pretended not to be in his office whenever the old man phoned. Soon, Mandela gave up his attempts to influence the SABC.
Transformation at the corporation was tedious. A "sunset clause" agreed upon during the multi-party negotiations protected civil servants (and SABC employees were treated as such) from retrenchments. Leading figures of the "old guard" either left voluntarily (after having negotiated a generous golden handshake), or they changed tack (and some of them did so honestly), or had to be kept on board until their early retirement. At the level of journalists and producers most employees (in particular the younger ones) adapted to the new dispensation without major difficulties. The influx of new staff was slow, due to a lack of funds and a sufficient number of trained broadcasters outside the SABC.
Today, the procedure of appointing the SABC board, in essence, is still the same. After the establishment of a democratically elected parliament, the selection process is now in the hands of the parliamentary committee responsible for broadcasting policy. It advertises the posts and calls upon all relevant groups in society and individuals to nominate candidates. The committee shortlists nominees and invites them for interviews in public hearings - thus ensuring transparency of the selection process. According to a provision in the Broadcasting Act of 1999, "the members of the Board must, when viewed collectively, represent a broad cross-section of the population of the Republic". The committee finally decides on its list of candidates which is published - so that every interested person can see for her- or himself who was dropped from the original short list. This list is then passed on to the President for approval and appointment (so far, the lists have been approved without questions asked).
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At the same time, work on legislation for an Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) proceeded. A Technical Committee set up by the Codesa process worked on a draft bill all through 1993, relying heavily on the input from the CIB team.
The negotiations had to overcome several hurdles. In March 1993 the NP government unilaterally started to grant licences for community radios to operators of its choice without waiting for the new legislation. In ANC circles, on the other hand, there were growing doubts whether the concept of community radio was a prudent one after all: allowing for dozens or even hundreds of independent voices on the air would create an uncontrollable broadcasting environment (which was precisely what the promotors of community broadcasting had in mind). In protest against both the unilateral action of government and the growing scepticism within the ANC, a community radio initiative in Cape Town, Bush Radio, on 1st May 1993 went on air with a pirate broadcast. Transmitters were seized by police the next day and charges laid against those responsible. The resulting publicity helped the negotiations back on track.
In early September 1993, the Negotiating Council of Codesa adopted the draft legislation for an IBA - together with other essential pieces of legislation that established a Transitional Executive Council (de facto an Interim Government), and an Independent Electoral Commission. The bills were passed on to (the existing minority) parliament which (as agreed beforehand) rubber-stamped the package within a week. The interim constitution, passed at the end of 1993, and the final constitution adopted in May 1996 both guarantee the independence of the IBA. The latter says in article 192: "National legislation must establish an independent authority to regulate broadcasting in the public interest, and to ensure fairness and a diversity of views broadly representing South African society."
The 1993 Act, which was slightly amended in early 1994, mandated the IBA to establish a three-tier broadcasting system: public, private and community. It also required the IBA to develop a national broadcasting policy framework as a vision for the future broadcasting landscape in the country. The amendment gave priority to the (temporary) licensing of community radios over commercial operators, so as to give them an edge over the commercial sector and enable them to develop meaningful roles before the business-oriented stations came in.
The first seven-member IBA Council was appointed by the State President on the advice of the Transitional Executive Council (the interim government) in March 1994 after a nomination process marked by participation of the public, transparency and openness, and which included the publication of a shortlist of candidates for appointment (to avoid any further interference by the President behind the scenes). [Today, the regulator's council is appointed along the same lines as the SABC board.]
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Before the IBA was able to licence any new players it had to undertake two processes simultanously: to initiate applications for licences from community radio stations (75 such operators were licenced during the second half of 1995) and to hold public inquiries into the future of the SABC, the question of local content as well as the problem of cross-media ownership. During these inquiries, held in the form of public hearings in 1994 and 1995, the IBA drew heavily on the input from civil society groups which created "The Group of Thirteen Organisations", among them the CIB - soon labelled by the press as "The Gang of 13". The CIB core team prepared appropriate papers which were discussed and approved at workshops with representatives from the 13 organisations involved. Members of the Group had a decisive influence on the hearings held in November/December 1994 and April/May 1995. In August 1995, the report on the inquiry was completed and adopted by parliament the next year.
Not only the drawn out process of policy formulation (and thus the late consideration of applications for commercial broadcasters), but also the IBA's mandate as such later came into question. While the Minister for Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting at the time of the inquiry, Dr Pallo Jordan, was deeply convinced that the state should not be allowed to intervene in broadcasting matters, his successor, Jay Naidoo, publicly criticised that the formulation of macro-policies should be left to a regulator, arguing that that was the role of government. He succeeded in bringing about the desired change in 1999 when parliament passed a new Broadcasting Act, stipulating in section 3 (2): "...the Minister is ultimately responsible to develop policy that is required from time to time". By that stage, the attention of civil society had moved on to other matters, and the shift of power over policy formulation from the independent regulator to the minister sailed through without much noise.
So did the merger in 2000 of the IBA with the South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (SATRA), the body in charge of telecommunications. The new combined IBA and SATRA are now known as the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The reason given for this merger was the steady convergence of broadcasting, telecommunications, information technology and other electronic media - it was felt to be better to avoid overlap of responsibilities and to have all these areas regulated by one body which would be more efficient. In fact - and not surprisingly - the opposite happened: the merger led to an even bigger and slower bureaucracy. And given the fact that the regulation of broadcasting is primarily about the different sectors of radio and TV as well as about broad programme content, while telecommunications regulation is first and foremost about purely technical and economic matters of transmission, the advantages of combining the two tasks are limited. Now there are two types of members on the board: people interested in the development of quality broadcasting on the one side and technical experts on the other - communication between the two is not always easy.
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Two years later, however, civil society was more vigilant when the now Minister for Post, Telecommunications and Broadcasting, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri (the former SABC Chairperson), tabled a draft amendment to the Broadcasting Act in parliament which stipulated, among many other issues, that the editorial policy of the corporation be approved by the minister. This onslaught on the editorial independence of the public broadcaster was rejected by a broad informal front of print media, opposition parties and civil society groups. Even the ANC committee in charge of media under the chairmanship of Pallo Jordan (the first minister in charge of broadcasting ...) expressed its disquiet. The proposal had to be withdrawn.
By the way: The same Pallo Jordan was to be the first Minister of Information in an ANC government. Before the April 1994 elections, the existence of such a ministry was regarded as a matter of course, even by civil society. On this issue, it was an international organisation which took the initiative and invited - three months before the elections - the Information Department of the ANC, headed by Jordan, to a Workshop on Communications Policies of a New Government in South Africa. It was argued that such a ministry was usually the mark of authoritarian non-democratic governments, that it would not be necessary in a country without state-owned or -controlled newspapers, radio and television, and that instead a Government Informations Service as a public relations agency was sufficient. At the end of that workshop, Jordan declared that there would be no Ministry of Information in the new South Africa.
The past role of media under the apartheid regime was examined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC's duty was, among others, to establish "as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of ... gross violations of human rights (from 1960 to 1994) ..., including the antecedents, circumstances, factors and context of such violations", and to "make recommendations to the President with regard to ... the institutional, administrative and legislative measures to be taken or introduced in order to prevent the commission of violations of human rights."
In order to get to some of the root causes of these violations, the TRC held Special Hearings with institutions such as Business and Labour, the Legal Community, the Health Sector, and the Media. The hearings were well prepared by research, in particular through interviews with the main actors, in the case of media with ministers, managers, editors, producers and journalists. The research formed the basis for commissioners to select individuals which were then invited to public hearings.
The TRC found in its 1998 report that "state restrictions on the freedom of the media played an important role in facilitating gross violations of human rights", that "the management of the mainstream English language media often adopted a policy of appeasement towards the state, ensuring that a large measure of self-censorship occurred", that "the Afrikaans media chose to
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provide direct support for apartheid", and that the SABC was "a direct servant of the government of the day". In summary, the TRC found that mainstream newspapers and the SABC "helped sustain and prolong the existence of apartheid".
In its recommendations it said: "The Commission recommends that there be less legislation controlling the media, rather than more", and suggested that a thorough review of all laws regarding the media be undertaken. The independence of the SABC and IBA was to be maintained, and the self-regulation of the media strengthened. And, unequivocally: "There should be no interference from government in editorial matters".
The impact of the TRC process on the media environment was less than had been hoped for. Editors who had worked in mainstream newspapers made excuses for themselves by referring to economic pressure from owners and suppression by law, by saying that they "tried to be normal in an abnormal society" or by claiming they had sought to fight apartheid "from within the system". The challenge for honest soul-searching was not taken up, there was no real acknowledgement of any wrongdoing (with the exception of a few journalists and editors in the Afrikaans press). Much the same went for editors and producers who had worked at the old SABC.
By and large, the media practised `business as usual' before and after the TRC inquiry. And there was no push for a systematic review of all media related legislation as suggested - neither by the industry itself, by lawmakers or by civil society.
By 1998, when the TRC presented its findings and recommendations, civil society in South Africa felt the strain of almost ten years of vigorous fighting for change. But there are still watchdogs around to make sure that the achievements of media reform are not endangered, let alone eroded by an over-confident ruling party with a two-thirds majority in national parliament. The Freedom of Expression Institute, for example, or the South African chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa raise the alarm whenever there is such an attempt - so far successfully.
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It took several resolutions of the United Nations - from as early as 1966, a judgement by the International Court of Justice in 1971, and a guerilla campaign in the 1970s and 80s, for South Africa to give up its resistance to an independent Namibia by the end of 1988. UN Resolution 435 opened the way to elections for a 72-member Constituent Assembly under UN supervision in November 1989.
The South West Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC) at the time was still under the control of South Africa. The UN urged the Corporation to give access to 14 competing political parties. A standing committee for consultations on election coverage policy made up of representatives from SWABC and the political parties was formed and agreed on a schedule of campaign messages to be flighted on television. There were to be five-minute slots for two parties per night during the six weeks preceding the elections, allocated on a rotating alphabetical basis. The committee, however, did not deal with the general broadcast news coverage, and this therefore remained biased in favour of South African interests, i.e. against the liberation movement SWAPO.
During 1990, the Constituent Assembly with SWAPO as the majority party developed and approved a new constitution. This says in Article 21 (1) (a): "All persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media". The Constituent Assembly transformed itself into parliament, the National Assembly. Namibia attained independence.
As there was no organised civil society to speak of at independence, the formulation of broadcasting legislation was by and large left to government which sought advice from international organisations. French advisers in particular went along with the idea of allowing government to exert strong political influence. The logic was that if the Minister of Information and Broadcasting appointed the supervisory body, control mechanisms had to be geared towards that office.
The 1992 Namibian Communications Commission (NCC) Act created the NCC which is in charge of frequency allocation and licensing private and community broadcasters, as well as (since 1995) telecommunications and postal services. Again, the minister appoints commissioners under the proviso that they must not be members of parliament , a local authority, or "actively involved in party politics as a regular organiser". The NCC is described as a de facto department of the ministry, relying on ministry funds.
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The new NBC inherited an operation run as an outpost of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. This had to be undone and replaced by a new system with new strategies. The organisation had originally been set up as a relay station for SABC programming, which led to overstaffing in support areas and administration. A year after the establishment of the NBC the average budget ratio in the programming department was still 83 % for salaries and just 17 % for production. Management was thus forced to embark on a major downsizing exercise. The savings made were redirected to co-productions with independent producers in the country.
The main concern, however, was not so much the organisational structures but the mindsets of journalists and producers working at the NBC. From the start the new government put immense pressure on management to bring in people from the liberation movement to counterbalance the old guard from the colonial era. Many of the new staff were professionals, others lacked the necessary skills. Most of them later left the corporation to become PR managers and directors in government departments.
Despite the legal and other shortcomings, the first NBC board had a great vision of objectivity. The new government was also very open to that goal during its first few years in power. This `euphoria' fizzled out over time and was replaced by the `realpolitik' of using the NBC as a political tool. To this date journalists at the NBC exercise self-censorship for fear of possible party victimisation or losing their jobs: a very effective form of information control.
Up to quite recently, the overall regulatory framework has never really been questioned. The NBC remains a state-controlled broadcaster. The NCC has licensed a number of privately owned radio and TV stations, thus creating, on the face of it, a fairly diverse broadcasting landscape. Unfortunately, most of the bigger, more influential stations are controlled by either SWAPO's Kalahari Holdings or the opposition's Democratic Media Holdings.
In 2002 the Namibian Government started drafting a new piece of legislation to transform the present NCC into a Communication Authority of Namibia (CAN) to regulate both telecommunications and broadcasting. The government's motif is widely seen as opening up the telecommunications market for economic competition. The draft has attracted criticism from professionals mainly because it keeps the controlling powers over CAN with government and reduces broadcasting to a mere economic commodity, thus neglecting its social functions within a democratic dispensation. Other points of contention are that the NBC is to be kept outside the regulatory powers of the CAN, and that the draft legislation as a whole is out of sync with trends in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), especially with the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport which was ratified by the Namibian parliament in 2002. At present the Media Institute of Southern Africa and other organisations are making efforts to open a new round of broad public consultations on the intended legislation.
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The year 1991 saw the change of Zambia's political system from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy. During the election campaign the state owned and run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation was very much under the control of the Ministry of Information's Department for National Guidance (!). A US-sponsored Zambia Voting Observation Project (Z-Vote) which reviewed and commented on the news coverage did not make much of an impact.
The new ruling party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), was keen to draw a lesson from this experience and perceived the ZNBC's lack of editorial independence as a threat to the new spirit of democracy in the country. The Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dipak Patel, convened a "National Seminar on Democracy and the Media in Zambia - the way forward" in October 1992. As a result a Media Reform Committee was established with representatives from the Zambian media. A year later, among others, the Committee recommended to remove the ZNBC from government control and to place it under an independent broadcasting authority accountable to and financed by parliament.
For the following three years nothing happened. The inherited broadcasting system with the Minister in charge of both the state broadcaster and the licencing of new operators suited the purposes of the new rulers only too well. Under pressure from media organisations, the Zambia Independent Media Association in particular, as well as the international community, government needed to make a move. In 1996, it published an "Information and Media Policy" which included the creation of an IBA and the strengthening of the ZNBC as a public broadcaster.
Another three years went by. In 1999, and again under pressure, government established yet another commission, the Task Force on Media Law Reforms, which arrived at similar recommendations. In addition to the introduction of an IBA and the transformation of the ZNBC into a public broadcaster it suggested a Freedom of Information Act which would give citizens the right of access to state held information.
As before, the new recommendations remained just that. In April 2000, ZIMA initiated the formation of the Broadcasting Independent Group (BIG) which brought together various media organisations, civil society groups, academics, and legal practitioners. Its main purpose was to lobby government to agree to the establishment of an IBA.
Again, there was no response. Parliament was dominated by one political party, the MMD, which had obviously no interest in changing the status quo.
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Elections in December 2001 changed the political landscape dramatically. The new president received only 28 % of the presidential vote, and in parliament opposition groups, generally believed to be in favour of legislative reform, were now in the majority. ZIMA, the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA), and other partners joined hands to make a renewed push for changes. This was a promising development given that before the elections the state-owned media, whose journalists are organised in PAZA, had been taking a tough pro-government stance. With the new precarious balance of power all media activists in the country obviously saw a window of opportunity for swift changes.
Their optimism derived largely from the fact that civil society at large had shown the previous year that it is indeed a force to be reckoned with. The people of Zambia, in particular in Lusaka, demonstrated their grassroots power when they mounted a spirited - and successful - campaign against Frederick Chiluba's intention to stand for an (unconstitutional) third term as president.
The new government, again led by the MMD, did not show any sign of interest in taking the initiative. The organisations, therefore, went an unusual way. They pursuaded Dipak Patel, the former Minister of Information who had meanwhile left the MMD and joined the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), to take up their cause and introduce the necessary reforms to parliament in the form of a private member's bills.
The newly formed Campaign for Media Law Reforms, initiated by ZIMA, took up all the previous demands: transformation of the ZNBC into a public broadcaster, creation of an IBA, and legislation on access to information. A lawyer was engaged to draft legislation accordingly.
In June and July 2002, a broadcasting bill, an IBA bill and a Freedom of Information bill were discussed during a series of consultative meetings attended by parliamentarians, journalists, lawyers, media experts from international organisations and the general public. These consultations led to a number of improvements to the drafts. The Ministry of Information, although invited, never took part in these meetings.
Members of Parliament, however, mostly from the opposition benches, as well as a few from the ruling MMD, agreed to support the three bills. It was decided to have them introduced as private members' bills by three MPs, with Dipak Patel to present the IBA bill.
As soon as the bills were drafted, ZIMA mounted a six months public awareness campaign with leaflets explaining the aims of the bills, radio and television discussions, TV and newspaper advertisements. This really turned up the heat on government. Only a week after the private members' bills had been officially submitted to the clerk of parliament on 1 August 2002, the Minister of Information, in a letter to ZIMA, demanded that they be dropped because
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government was in the process of drafting similar legislation. Three weeks later, high level government officials met the three MPs concerned with the intention to pursuade them to withdraw their drafts.
The MPs refused. Government insisted on its traditional responsibility of making laws for the country. Nevertheless, in October, the three bills were published in the Government Gazette and in national dailies with invitations for public input. Three weeks later came another twist: parliament rejected the private members' bills on the ground of articles in the constitution and the Standing Orders of parliament which stipulate that bills with financial implications need the consent of the President, the Vice President or the Minister of Finance, before they can be brought before Parliament. Immediately after this rejection, government gazetted and published its own bills: the Freedom of Information bill, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) bill and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (Amendment) bill, 2002.
At first glance, there were no major differences between the government and the private members' versions with the exception of the ZNBC legislation. Government was obviously intent on retaining its power over the corporation, and rejected the proposed Broadcasting Bill which would have transformed the ZNBC from a state broadcaster into an independent public service. There was only one technical concession: the power to regulate broadcasting through the issuing of licences was to be transferred from the ZNBC to the IBA.
After a lot of horse trading, government finally gave in and accepted parts of the proposed Broadcasting Bill giving the ZNBC an independent supervisory board and obliging the corporation to follow public broadcasting principles. However, the Minister of Information, who was to be relieved of any responsibilities in regard to broadcasting in previous drafts, now has major powers to influence the composition of the committees that appoint the boards of the ZNBC and IBA - a major flaw in the legislation, as ZIMA admits.
The bills were passed by parliament in December and signed by the President at the end of the same month.
Not all of them, though. The Freedom of Information Bill was withdrawn by government at the last minute, just before its third reading in parliament. The events of 11th September 2001 were cited as the reason: in view of the "terrorist" threat, government wanted to review the draft.
By May 2003, the two broadcasting acts had still not been put in force by the Minister of Information as required by law. ZIMA and its partners have embarked on yet another campaign, this time to implement the legislation and not allow it to collect dust on shelves in ministerial offices. The motto of the new efforts: no legislation without implementation.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2003