Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A surprise and an early start

When I arrived in Zambia Tuesday afternoon (we're seven hours ahead of Eastern Time here), I was surprised to learn that former President George W. Bush will be here as part of a three-nation tour that begins in Tanzania and ends in Ethiopia, where he will speak at a world AIDS conference. So it looks like our paths will cross again on Saturday, when he holds a meet-and-greet at the new U.S. embassy, which is a very nice place with lots of nice people but for my money is too much of a fortress, as most of our new embassies have been in recent years.

Bush will be here because "Zambia is a flagship in learning how to diagnose and treat these cancers" of the cervix and breast, U.S. Ambassador Mark Storella said at a press briefing this morning. It also has a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, which is another reason for Bush's visit, and mine. He started the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, which Storella said is keeping 400,000 Zambians with HIV alive; and I am here as an extension of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications' State Department-sponsored program to help Zambia and Botswana journalists cover HIV and AIDS, subjects that journalists get tired of reporting about and that readers, viewers and listeners get tired of reading and hearing about.

I attended this morning's briefing, was introduced, and gave interviews to reporters about the issues that brought me here: freedom of information and news-media self-regulation. The government ousted in the September election had dragged its feet on a freedom-of-information act and wanted statutory regulation of journalists, with licensing and monetary penalties. The new government says it will move on an FOIA, and there seems to be a consensus that the news media need some sort of self-regulation, probably like the Press Complaints Commission, the successor to the old British Press Council. The commission enforces the British Editors' Code of Practice, created along with the independent, self-sustaining commission after some members of Parliament threatened to pass a privacy and right-of-reply law.

This afternoon I had the first of two meetings at the Ministry of Justice then to the Ministry of Information to meet with Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga, who before the election was the editor of The Post, the only privately owned daily newspaper in this largely rural country of 13 million people. As I told the reporters this morning, the election shuffled lots of cards, many folks are playing new roles, and that is probably a good time to forge consensus on the issues that brought me here. I will also spend a day at each of the three newspapers; the new government says it will sell up to 35 percent of each paper, but some people are wondering who would want to be a minority stockholder in a government-owned paper. To its credit, the Zambia Daily Mail has shown flashes of independence since the election; I will spend the day there tomorrow.

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