By Kakie Urch
University of Kentucky Profs. Al Cross and Mike Farrell hosted a group of Zambian journalists and government officials Tuesday at a visit at the Kentucky statehouse, as part of the African group’s six-day visit to the
Kentucky’s Open Records and Open Meetings Act may serve as a model for one being drafted in Zambia, a longstanding democracy in Southern Africa. The visit featured recognition of the delegation on the floor of the Kentucky Senate by Sen. Julian Carroll (D-Frankfort) who was the state’s governor when the Open Records Act was passed.
The visitors, who ranged from a professor of mass communications at the University of Zambia to a public relations head for the Zambian national television network ZNBC to a lawyer who drafts laws for Zambia’s office of the attorney general, to an editor of one of the national newspapers, were on a visit sponsored by the U.S. State Department in conjunction with the World Affairs Council of Louisville.
Cross, a 25-year veteran Courier-Journal statehouse reporter and a former president of the National Society of Professional Journalists in the U.S., has been active in working with Zambia on Freedom of Information legislation and has visited Zambia twice in this outreach.
The University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications, where Cross teaches, has a longstanding relationship with Zambian media houses and organizations, with a group of eight professors who frequently visit both Zambia and Botswana as part of a USAID-funded PEPFAR program that is working to improve print and broadcast communication messages in both countries on the issue of HIV-AIDS.
In the morning, David Thompson Executive of the Kentucky Press Association and John Nelson, former KPA president and current editor of both Winchester Sun and Danville Advocate-Messenger, accompanied the group, with Cross and Farrell, to a meeting at the Attorney General’s office with Amye Bensenhaver, asst. attorney general.
“We talked about how the Open Records Law works and the role of the Attorney General’s office and what the First Amendment Center does to promote public support for open government,” Cross said, in an interview in the gallery of the Kentucky Senate chamber. Prof. Farrell is the director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky and a veteran newspaper editor with The Kentucky Post. He has worked with the Attorney General’s office to produce a DVD that helps local officials learn how to comply with Kentucky’s law.
The Zambians’ visit to Kentucky included meetings on Friday with members of the World Affairs Council of Louisville and with media lawyer Jon Fleischaker, who is the primary author of Kentucky’s state Open Records and Open Meetings Act. On Friday, the group also visited the WLKY studios and with former WHAS-TV journalist Mark Hebert, who used the Open Records Act to reveal the Gov. Paul Patton cell phone scandal. Among the cultural highlights was a visit to Churchill Downs.
“This (trip) is funded by the State Dept because State has an interest in helping pass a Freedom of Information Act in Zambia. On this trip are some of the same people who I met with on that issue in November and December in Lusaka,” Cross said.
During the afternoon of the Monday statehouse visit, the Zambians attended a meeting of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee and a meeting of the committee that adjudicates the state’s Tobacco Settlement funds for agriculture. They were warmly and publicly welcomed by each body.
Then, they went to the Senate, where they met former governor, Sen. Carroll and were photographed behind Senate President David Williams’ podium with him. Once the Senate convened, Sen. Carroll rose to recognize the group of visitors, who stood up from their seats in the gallery and were applauded by the senators. They observed the filing of Senate bills on the last day to file and then went to the House of Representatives, where they were recognized by Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort).
Zambia, which recently had a change in power after a 20-year dominance by a single party, is committed to drafting and passing a Freedom of Information (or Access To Information) law based on a revision of a 5-year-old proposal. The new deadline for the draft is in April.
“At least one of the members of the delegation is on that task force team of the Information Ministry to do the drafting,” Cross said. Other members of the delegation are engaged in using that law as members of the working print and broadcast press and members of media organizations and educational bodies.
The visitors not only got to experience U.S.-style government in action, but they were also on hand for some U.S.-style severe weather, with Friday’s tornado outbreak and Monday morning’s significant snowfall.
The Zambian visitors were: James Banda, Banking and finance expert; Elizabeth Mweene Chanda, Sr. Lecturer in Mass Communications at University of Zambia; Sheikh Simpembele Chifuwe, Program Manager, Press Freedom Committee, The Post Newspapers; Suzen Daisy Katantamalundu, Director, Home Affairs Research, Planning and Information Department; Morden Mumanga Mayembe, Asst. Director, Research and Information Zambia News and Information Services, Anthony Mukwita, Deputy Managing Editor, Zambia Daily Mail; Belinda Lukaki Musopelo, Parliamentary Counsel, Department of Legislative Drafting and Law Revision, Ministry of Justice; Masuzyo Ndhlovu, Public Relations Officer, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, Daniel Challa Sikazwe, Chairperson, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zambia).