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Investigative Journalism in Zambia submission by ZAMWA to the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technologies

Investigative Journalism in Zambia

Submission by the Zambia Media Women Association

to the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technologies

Presented by Caroline Kalombe

This submission is a response to the request made by the Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technologies for ZAMWA to write a memorandum on the:

  • definition of Investigative journalism;
  • role of investigative journalism in engendering accountability by public officer holders;
  • availability of the policy and legal framework;
  • efficacy of investigative journalism training in Zambia;
  • measures put in place by media house to promote investigative journalism in Zambia; and
  • make recommendations on the way forward.

Definition of Investigative Journalism

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) defines investigative journalism as the revealing of concealed matters by someone in position of authority, either intentionally or unintentionally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances.  In this regard, investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters go in-depth to investigate a story that uncovers corruption, review government policies or expose the wrong doings of a corporate entity or even draw attention to social, economic and political cultural trends.

Certain manuals and analyses of investigative journalism share the conclusion that it is an archetypal “watchdog” activity which investigates the actions of government and businesses to detect violations of legal and moral standards.

Investigative journalism is integral to democratic accountability and public trust in the news in a fake news era. Famous cases of cross-national investigations such as the Panama Papers showed that big data leaks followed by a concerted effort of journalists working across borders, can help to hold politicians and governments accountable (Carson, 2019).

An investigative story could be undertaken by one or a team of reporters.  It may take them a month or a year to research a single story.  The difference between a conventional report and an investigative report is that in conventional report, reporters depend on information supplied by government authorities, political party representatives, civil society organisations, NGOs, government agencies etc. However, an investigative story is a result of the reporter(s) initiative which is aimed at revealing matters that might have been concealed by public officials or corporate entities. An investigative story is undertaken in order to expose a wrong or threatening situation and calls for the need to put in place corrective measures.   It starts with concerns at times raised by members of the public on issues of public interest such as health for instance.  It is then followed by a search for facts that prove or refute the allegations or suspicions.   

In this regard, ZAMWA could conclusively state that investigative journalism unveils concealed matters by those in public office or position of authority, intentionally or unintentionally behind a mass of facts and circumstances.  And investigative story analyses and exposes all relevant information to the general public.

The role of investigative journalism in engendering accountability by public office holders

Sometimes, an investigative report reveals unethical dealings by public official and ultimately drawing attention to the fact that there is need to put in place a law that would help to address the wrong or threatening situation. Unethical conduct may include: abuse of office, poor service delivery, corruption in government etc.  An investigative story may expose the unethical conduct of a private corporate entity or fraudulent dealings whose actions might disadvantage the members of the public.  The purpose of the story would be to ensure that some action may be taken to correct the situation.

An investigative report is aimed at influencing both policy makers and members of the public.  At times, an investigative story exposes official scandals, corruption, misapplications of government resources and poor management in certain public institutions. As a result, some scholars have linked it to governance and calls it journalism of advocacy.  This provokes public anger which in turn drives civil society’s agitation for policy change.  The disclosure by the media results in agenda building processes, resulting in reform outcomes, or policy changes thereby promoting democracy, efficiency and social justice.  This is summed up in what is termed Mobilisation Model of Investigative reporting, a paradigm operating on the following:

  • the media tell the public what they need to know;
  • the public, so enlightened decided what they want and agitate for reform;
  • police makers respond to public pressure and institute reforms; and
  • the media ten communicate those policy measures to the public.

Thus, for democracy to thrive, it is dependent on an informed public with means to know what their leaders are doing.  In this regard, actualization of the above-mentioned model demands that the media is independent and aggressive in performing its role as a watchdog over the Government as well as other powerful forces.  Ultimately, media exposure of morally outrageous conduct strengthened the capacity of good to seek and stop the forces of evil.

Usually when an investigative piece is published it uncovers and illustrates the role that investigative journalism plays in a democracy. Firstly, the investigation is concerned with a topic of public interest, namely, poor service delivery or corruption.

Investigative Journalism assists in creating the conditions necessary for a democratic political system to effectively function. It contributes to expanding the scope of journalistic scrutiny of politics by pushing for a “civic journalism” that contributes to openness and debate in society.

It ensures there is public accountability for decisions made and ensure that businesses follow legal provisions.

 In view of the foregoing, ZAMWA is of the view that investigative journalism could be a mode through which the media, to a large extent, play their watchdog role and fulfill their social obligations as a fourth estate.

Policy and Legal Framework

World over, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are not absolute.  As a result, every state has put in place policies and laws that regulate the operations of the media.  On 23rd November, 2020, the Minister of information and Broadcasting Services launched a Media Development Policy whose vision is to have a free, responsible, pluralistic and sustainable media industry”.   The I996 Media Policy was not specific on media development and has been outdated for a long time.

The newly launched Media Development Policy has five objective which are to:

  • promote a system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression and diversity;
  • promote plurality and diversity of media; a level economic playing field and transparency of ownership;
  • promote media as a platform for democratic discourse;
  • promote media professional capacity building that underpins freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity; and
  • pomote infrastructure development supportive to the growth of the media.

Form these objectives, it is clear that the intention of the new media development policy is to promote freedom of expression by ensuring that press freedom is assured in Zambia.  ZAMWA awaits to see whether the Policy will enhance press freedom and media training and the practice of investigative journalism through reforms in the media sector. It is our view as  ZAMWA, that this policy will address the many challenges experienced by the media in Zambia and that investigative journalism will be promoted and developed through this policy. Because currently, there is no policy that governs investigative reporting in Zambia.

Legal Framework

The Penal Code, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia was one of the laws that hindered the practice of journalism and also investigative journalism. The Penal Code contained a number of provisions such as:

(a) Sections 53, 54 and 55 which empowers the President to prohibit a publication if considered to be contrary to public interest;

 (b) Section 57(i) which prohibits the printing, publishing, offering for sale, distributing or reproducing any seditious publication;

 (c) Section 69 which protects the President’s reputation and dignity of his office by providing that “any person who, with intent to bring the President into hatred, ridicule 5  or contempt, publish any defamatory or insulting matter, whether by writing, print, word of mouth or in any other manner, is guilty of an offence;

 (d) Section 71 which makes it an offence for any person “without justification or excuse as would be deemed sufficient in the case of defamation of a private person” to publish anything that has the effect of degrading, reviling or exposing “to hatred or contempt any foreign prince, potentate, ambassador or other foreign dignitary with intent to disturb the peace and friendship between Zambia and the country to which such a prince, potentate, ambassador or dignitary belongs;

 (e) Section 116 which provides for the offence of contempt of Court and is aimed at protecting the integrity of the Court and avoids trying cases which are before the courts of law in the media;

(f) The State Security Act, Chapter 111 which prohibits the publication of any article or information which might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to a foreign power;

(g) The Defamation Act, Chapter 68, which prohibits bringing any person into hatred, ridicule or contempt by publishing any insulting matter, whether by writing, print or word of mouth; and

(h) The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation Act, No. 16 of 1987.

In view of the foregoing, ZAMWA is of the view that the country has no specific statutes that govern investigative journalism.  The laws that are currently regulating the media are also used to regulate investigative journalism in Zambia.

Journalism Training in Zambia

Currently, most media training institutions in the country do not have a specific curriculum tailored to train investigative journalism.  Those who are practicing investigative journalism are doing it out of interest and have taught themselves and have at times attended occasional short trainings that were offered by institutions such as MISA, PANOS and other international training institutions such as Reuters Institute and OSISA.  In this regard, there is need to build capacity through introduction of investigative reporting as a specialised course in journalism training at certificate, diploma and degree levels.

Measures put in place by media houses to promote investigative journalism

Kantumoya, L (2004) acknowledges that most media houses agree that investigative journalism is one of the tools that could be used to hold leaders accountable.  In 2019, the American Embassy engaged a foreign journalist to (Bill Hinchberger) to train some journalists in investigative journalism in Ndola, Solwezi, and Lusaka.  However, over the years various training have been held to promote investigative journalism by ZAMCOM, USA Embassy and private organizations in the media industry.  However, very few media houses have invested in investigative journalism because of financial constraints.

Challenges being faced

Some of the challenges that hinder the growth of investigative journalism include:

  • absence of the access to information legislation. In Zambia, the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the media. But access to information remains a challenge.
  • political violence. Most times when an investigative piece does not sit well with a political grouping journalists are harassed, threatened and intimated. Journalists should be protected from harassment and intimidation, and all attempts to intimidate or physically threaten journalists should be promptly investigated by law enforcement agencies.
  • lack of funds. Investigating a story takes a long time and requires funds. This is because those covering will require a lot of tools and will conduct significant amount of travelling to get to the truth.
  • Government red tape; As earlier stated there is limited access to information from Government agencies and institutions.
  • Publisher pressure.


First, it is necessary to ensure there is open and unhindered access to important information, including that provided by whistleblowers.

Second, journalists should be protected from harassment and intimidation, and all attempts to intimidate or physically threaten journalists should be promptly investigated by law enforcement agencies. The media, anti-corruption, and other organizations should continue to document and report on the harassment and intimidation of journalists.

It is also important to ensure the protection of journalists’ sources and whistleblowers because quite often they are the only source of information that is of major public interest. There are some protections for whistleblowers in the Law “On the Prevention of Corruption,” however, they apply only to whistleblowers who disclose information about corruption.

There is need to introduce an investigative reporting award that would encourage specialized reporting. There are media awards in other media categories and therefore, it would be important to establish an investigative media award to promote this type of specialized reporting.

I submit.

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