UNESCO Multi-donor programme contributes to freedom of expression and safety of journalists during Zambia’s general elections
In previous years, elections in Zambia were associated with media harassments and violations from contesting candidates and political party sympathizers. The 2021 elections were however a bit different; thanks to the advocacy and capacity building activities undertaken by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia with support from the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA).
Journalists were trained on election reporting and the electoral code of conduct, among other things. As a result, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) did not shut down or call out any media house for unethical reporting during the 2021 elections. The Independent Broadcasting Authority instead issued a statement commending the media for covering the elections well.
In that statement the IBA Director General Ms. Josephine Mapoma said that a number of broadcasting stations covered the just ended elections in an ethical and professional manner.
Ms Mapoma also said that the capacity building programmes conducted countrywide for broadcasting stations in election reporting, acted as a catalyst to professional conduct. She went on to express her gratitude by thanking all stakeholders, state and non-state actors that played a role in conducting capacity building for different media personnel.
Among the activities conducted and implemented were engagement meetings with various political parties and the Zambia Police Service, capacity building for reporters, editors and citizen journalists on concepts of information disorder, laws guiding election reporting such as the electoral code of conduct and media ethics.
The activities yielded a number of positive results in which the political parties pledged to ensure media safety and issued a communique as a public gesture of their commitment to ensuring media safety during one of the meetings organised by MISA Zambia.
Additionally, the Zambia Police Service also promised to ensure media safety. Therefore, it was elating to note that no law enforcement officer disrupted live or recorded radio or television programmes during and after the elections despite featuring persons with divergent views from different political parties. This was a great departure from the past as Zambia Police officers used to interfere with radio stations programmes which seemed to have divergent views.
UNESCO, continues to support advocacy to encourage full, fair and efficient disclosure of information to journalists covering elections; training to enhance professional election reporting; training on the safety of journalists and their right to work without threat; and the production and distribution of election guidelines reflecting principles of professional reporting during elections, journalists’ rights, election processes, safety information and freedom of expression.
The “Democracy Strengthening in Zambia” (DSZ) project is part of a broader UNDP’s Programme on Democracy Strengthening in Zambia – 2019-2022. This programme brings together UNESCO and UNDP, in collaboration with the Independent Broadcasting Authority of Zambia, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa to strengthen the capacity of the media for the 2021 Zambia elections. UNESCO’s support to the programme is extended through the UNESCO’s Multi Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists. Other participating organizations includes the BBC Media Action, the Zambia Human Rights Commission and Zambia Police Service.