Regional media solidarity recommended

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…as governments tighten noose on media freedom

By Matiisetso Mosala

Zambia– Limitations to Media freedom of expression, access to information and independence of the media has necessitated regional solidarity and coordination.

This has been pronounced by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ)- a network of associations in Zimbabwe focused on uniting local and international advocacy about media crisis, and a Zambian  independent non-profit enterprise working in media rights and freedoms; Bloggers of Zambia- as extremely important during elections period particularly, a time when fair and factual reporting is vital.

The collaboration has been to facilitate participation of media personnel around the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region as electoral observers and enhance the media’s role in the coverage of elections.

Ahead of Zambia’s elections, the Bloggers of Zambia’s Chief Executive Officer Richard Mulonga said the mission was to provide an opportunity for media from different countries inclusive of Lesotho and Zimbabwe to draw critical lessons from elections process in Zambia ahead of their elections.

Mulonga said the regional networking project is further aimed at strengthening regional advocacy for Media Freedom that been in existence over the last few years.

“The aim is to enable solidarity within the media and influence regional bodies, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC)  the African Union and the United States’ reports in assessing media performance in the coverage of elections”, Mulonga said.

Chairperson of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) Loughty Dube said it is important as the SADC region to learn from each other’s perspective as far as elections are concerned as well as in other areas.

“Take Zimbabwe and Lesotho for example who will be going to elections in two years’ and a year’s time respectively. The idea is to get an appreciation of how the media cover elections in other countries and Zambia was the imminent stop”, Dube said.

Nigel Nyamutumbu, the Programs Manager at the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) said the lessons’ sharing is just one component, emphasizing that solidarity of the media within the region is the bigger picture.

Nyamutumbu said governments through regional bodies always have a common position when it comes to issues of media freedom, of internet regulations, cyber security regulations, access to information regulations, electoral election guidelines and protocols.

“It is therefore prudent now for the media at this level to express solidarity with each other and benchmark on regional standards, international ones and also on our basic demands. These include expectations on how the media should conduct itself, especially during election time”, Nyamutumbu said.

According to MAZ, in most SADC elections observer mission reports, there is a lot that is critical of the media conduct during elections hence the need for on the ground observation, interactions and engagements to be able to make necessary recommendations to SADC and influence change from a media perspective.

Nyamutumbu said “essentially, being from different countries and observing elections in a particular country, the mission is not emotionally vested as indirect actors therefore able to express freely what local media may not be able to”.

Another highlighted component is strengthening advocacy and holding governments accountable based on standards, protocols, statutes and in country constitutions, laws and practices set by them.

Regional bodies, such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Elections resource centers are some of the various actors that contribute to the broader strengthening of the critical voice that the media has in pushing governments to free media, access to information and fair electoral processes.

Daniel Sikazwe, Chairperson of the Bloggers of Zambia said issues of freedom of expression, closing up of spaces for expression for media, civil society and political activists is of concern as online spaces have been closing up.

“Take the cyber security act that was enacted about seven months ago which is a model that was adopted from Kenya and other SADC countries. Its design perpetuates the status quo and that is worrying because it leads to abuse of the media and compromises access to information and verification of such information thereof”, Sikazwe said.

In line with advocacy and lobbying aimed at strengthening regional solidarity and coordination, Misa Regional Secretariat had also dispatched a delegation to observe the media and freedom of expression landscape during the Zambian elections.

The mission is especially during a time when regional governments are seemingly heightening and tightening the noose on freedom of expression, especially free expression online