Q: What is the state of press freedom in your country?
MZ: The battle for press freedom in Zambia has come a long way, and we have now reached a pinnacle where we can safely say the media in Zambia is enjoying relative freedom. [I have] practiced as a journalist for 19 years, starting in the so-called dark days of the one-party state when privately run newspapers or broadcast stations were not allowed. [Now that] the airwaves have been liberalized and privately run newspapers are flourishing, I can say the media in my country has come of age. The fact that privately owned newspapers and television stations and community radio stations are allowed to publish and broadcast without inhibition speaks of the extent to which the present government which ushered in multiparty politics and is willing to let democracy flourish. For you cannot talk of a true democracy without a free press.
However, despite these milestones, more still remains to be done to firmly entrench press freedom. We still have laws in place that impinge on press freedom, such as criminal libel, for which a convicted journalist can go to jail. Criminal libel should be repealed, and libel should only be a civil matter attracting a fine. The freedom of Information bill, which has been debated for too long, needs to be enacted into law to allow journalists access to information. We also hope the new constitution will enshrine freedom of the press, unlike now when it is interpreted as part of the clause on freedom of expression which is totally different from the former.
Q: What are the biggest challenges for women journalists in your country?
MZ: Journalism is still male dominated, and the ladder for upward mobility for female journalists is still steep. There are reasons for this, and one of them is motherhood, which costs women’s progression. The maternity leave periods are enough excuse for bosses (who are men in most cases) to bypass a woman for promotion in preference to a male colleague. By the time maternity leave is over, the male colleague will have moved a step ahead.
However, I must say female journalists are being recognized for their perseverance as seen in an increase in the number of women editors heading desks, although we are yet to see a woman head a media organization.
Q: How do you and other women journalists face these challenges?
MZ: They say if you cannot beat them, join them, and that is what most of us are doing. Some beats like covering disasters, riots, football matches, which were seen as too masculine, are being covered side by side with the male counterparts. Women have become more assertive – hence the increase in the number of editors – thanks to the women’s movement in the country, which has helped women believe in themselves. The important thing, however, is for women to tackle hard tasks while still retaining their femininity.