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The Coalition on Right to Information (CORI) has resolved to step up efforts to engage members of relevant Parliamentary Standing Committees in order to improve proposed bills on media and information.

The two Bills - Media Services and Access to Information have been received by stakeholders with mixed with some terming them as draconian. They were presented to Parliament in March, 2015 for first reading and expected to be tabled again during the last lap of the on-going budget session.

Members of CORI drawn from a number of organizations including media and social media, resolved at their latest meeting held at the Media Council on June 10, 2015 that they should act fast before the bills are tabled and sail through in their present form.

Among the urgent steps they decided to take include, engaging members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Development which will handle the Media Services Bill and the Constitutional, Legal Affairs and Governance Standing Committee which will deliberate on the Access to Information proposed bill.

The consensus among CORI members is that the bills are restrictive and would hamper and infringe on press freedom and freedom of expression.

The sticking elements in the Media Services Bill include the licensing of journalists and criminalization of professional and ethical lapses with stern penalties – jail terms and fines, which are seen as attempts by the authorities to cow and scare media practitioners and inculcate self censorship.

Another negative element is the directive contained in the bill that all media outlets link to the purported “national broadcaster “– TBC- during the prime time 20.00hrs news bulletin.

This raised a number of questions during the CORI meeting seeking clarification whether the “state broadcaster” would be ready to share the advertising revenue with those outlets which are compelled by law to link to it at prime time?

As for the Access to Information Bill, the government proposals are not better as they prohibit the sharing of acquired official information which stakeholders argue that what is the use of providing information with restrictions.

Apart from engaging the law-makers, CORI members also emphasised the need to petition and galvanize support against the proposed legislation both locally and internationally.

In efforts to sensitize the general public on the contentious and obnoxious bills, CORI members have appeared on Television programmes. The programmes are – Kipima Joto aired by ITV, Morning Trumpet aired by Azam TV and the latest is Je Tutafita ( Shall we Make It) on Channel Ten.

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