Journalists and FOI – need to read

 By Mazuba Mwiinga

Knowledge is always presumed to be kept in journalists. Where the public doubts, journalists are at all times expected to provide the right answer through the right information. Where a journalist is caught red handed in the act telling a lie, in the eyes of the public its un forgivable sin, because the public cannot have the right to right information if the conduit of that information is damn unreliable.

And that’s why it pissed my head off its electrified connection when I heard journalists biting their tongues in an effort to appear knowledgeable over the Freedom Of Information Bill (FOI) during a forum at Capital Theatre in Livingstone on a topic: Role of the media in a democracy.

Defensively the journalists, who appeared at the forum, went round the bush speaking totally of a thing no one needed to doubt them, and in as a matter of fact, ended up just pleading for the public’s help in the fight so that FOI gets a Presidential assent so that their work becomes easier. Lie!!

This was a clear show that some of our journalists, despite their good skills in reporting and news writing, lack the skills of taking time to know what they are talking about.

The FOI Bill that has been a very controversial piece of legislature between the media and Government is not a document that is created just for journalists. Do you think the Government is such a coward of the media? This battle has come this far just because the Bill enhances the citizens’’ right to information when they need it. The Bill actually reduces the job of a journalist of informing the public on what the Government may have been hiding because, it gives powers to the public to directly seek that information on their own.

The preamble to the Bill states, “An Act to establish the Public Information Commission and define its functions; to provide for the right of access to information; to set out the scope of public information under the control of public authorities to be made available to the public in order to facilitate more effective participation in the good governance of Zambia; to promote transparency and accountability of public officers; and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing”.

It does not mention of journalists in particular but the public. And to insinuate that lack of this Bill as an Act hinders the journalists access to information in public institutions is just a mere act of scapegoat on the part of the journalists; because if others can, and has been accessing this information without this legislature, how then others fail?

It has to be known that, the work of a journalist is not that of hand-to-mouth kind of task. A journalist needs more than just a mere piece of legislation to get the information to the public. He has to work an extra mile to get this information, and get it right and deliver it to the right people. The only weapons a journalist has are ethics, a notebook/recorder and a pen, the rest are added unto him.

The perception that was being made in this forum that this Bill once it becomes law, will be making journalists work easier because they will be just walking into an office, demand for information and get it; is much more lying than what it stipulates.

Section 23 (1) of the Bill states that, “A request for access to information may be made orally or in writing and shall be addressed to the head of the public authority or any other authorised person: Provided that a person may request the Commission to obtain the information from a public authority on that person’s behalf”.

And the person who has requested for this information must wait for a maximum of 14 days for the information to be provided before he can take an action of complaining for non availability of this information.

Lacking all such pertinent data on this Bill by the Panellist journalists is clear indication of how un knowledgeable they were on the Bill they claimed was so important for them. Wonder is in me, as to how they would even use it if they don’t know how it operates.

Journalists are regarded as a data base of information; and need to research and read thoroughly on any information of public interest. They need to equip themselves before they transmit such to the public. Biting their tongues when they were asked to state what the Bill says was such an embarrassment to journalism!

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