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Zambia: Draft Constitution to Include Press Freedom

(May 7, 2012) Zambia released a draft constitution on April 30, 2012, that has been praised for its provisions on freedom of the press. The document also contains a bill of rights and establishes a 50%-plus-one voting system for electing the president of the country. (PAZA Lauds Draft Constitution on Media Freedom, TIMES OF ZAMBIA ONLINE (May 2, 2012).) In addition, it has been described as outlining a decentralized administrative system. (James Butty, Zambia's Draft Constitution Seeks to Decentralize Government, Voice of America website (May 1, 2012).)

Article 38 of the draft constitution would guarantee freedom and independence for electronic, print, and other media. It states, in part, that

The State shall not (a) exercise control over, or interfere with, any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication, or the dissemination of information by any medium; or (b) penalise any person for any opinion or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination. (First Draft Constitution of the Republic of Zambia, (Apr. 30, 2012), ZAMBIAN-ECONOMIST.)

The article goes on to say that government-controlled media will also be able to operate independently. (Id.)

According to the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA), the draft constitution, when adopted, will encourage the development of press institutions. PAZA's President, Andrew Sakala, said, “[w]e welcome the inclusion of the article in the first Draft Constitution. This is a giant step towards the media law reforms. It is a big step in providing freedom of the media.” (PAZA Lauds Draft Constitution on Media Freedom, supra.)

The draft was also lauded by the Foundation for Democratic Process, which said that article 38 would enable media organizations to operate freely in the country. (Id.) The Foundation is a Zambian nongovernmental organization working to promote democracy and human rights in the country. (Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), PEACEBUILDING PORTAL (last visited May 7, 2012).)

Zambia has been criticized in the past for using intimidation tactics against independent media. The U.S. State Department said that although independent media criticizing government policies did circulate in Zambia, “officials used the law to suppress criticism of political or other leaders,” and the government and other leaders “repeatedly targeted the leading independent newspaper, The Post, with criticisms, threats, and litigation for publishing information critical of the government.” (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 2010 Human Rights Report: Zambia (Apr. 8, 2011).) The organization Reporters Without Borders lists Zambia as 86th in the world on its Press Freedom Index, out of 179 countries ranked. (Press Freedom Index 2011-2012, Reporters Without Borders website, (last visited May 7, 2012).)

Speaking for the government in commemoration of Press Freedom Day, Zambia's Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Labour, Fackson Shamenda, stated that the press is already very free in Zambia. He referred to the liberty of opposition figure Chanda Chimba, who, Shamenda argues, committed wrongs in his documentaries, violating basic media principles and ethics. (Chimwemwe Mwale, Zambian Media Is Free, Says State, ZAMBIA DAILY MAIL (May 4, 2012).)