5 June 2022

The Zambian Threat to Online News Freedom

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It is no secret that African governments are uncomfortable with online news media especially when it is increasingly being used to criticise the ruling government. Egypt and Libya have taught them well. Gambia, Cameroon and Angola have passed laws making some online speech punishable. Local access to some online media has already been blocked by the Zambian government. The police have launched witch-hunts against anybody posting negative comments online about the ruling party and labelled those people criminals undertaking treasonous activities. Of course we all know the drama. 

However, while some of you read and nod in agreement that the fabric of our Zambian society is endangered by open-access internet, we must consider the true value of online freedom. The digital age has revolutionized pretty much everything. Perhaps one of the most important changes has been to media such that the scope of digital media is now blown out of proportions. In the fewest words possible, the whole concept is disruptive.

The biggest “culprit” is social media. Facebook even has a Wikipedia page listing the different countries where it is inaccessible or censored. Twitter is also fast becoming a serious social mobilisation tool and thus an enemy to the paranoid governments, for example, Turkey.

The topic is rich and deep but before we get lost in it, let me get to the point of this article which is to reveal the Zambian threat to online news freedom. Have you heard about the law being drafted by the government that would regulate online news media in order to stop “Internet abuse”? 

Some of you may have heard that the supreme leader of our country has rejected a new constitution saying that Zambia does not need one. Apparently the government is drafting a law that would regulate online news media because some clauses of the draft constitution unsettled the government, including those that said broadcast and electronic news media would be subject to licensing procedures necessary to regulate signals and signal distribution, but would be free from political interference, according to PC Advisor.

Bloggers, online journalists, internet enthusiasts or whatever you call yourself, there is need to pay attention to what is going on. This law will transcend to social media as well because, guess what, it turns out that blocking a website is not enough since there is Facebook. Good example is the Zambian Watchdog situation. Online journalists and other Internet users in Burundi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Morocco and Ethiopia have already faced arrests or criminal prosecutions for posting content online said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

 

There’s talk about ICT for development (ICT4d) and how everybody should have access. Well, how will we develop if there is no open-access, there is censorship and criminality is attached to the internet? The Web recently turned 25 and net neutrality was one of the key messages. So if you want to join the global movement to defend, claim and change the future of the web, then you can sign-up with webwewant now.

Image credit: Dreams Time