By Field Ruwe
President Sata must fire his special assistant for press and public relations George Chellah for committing one of journalism’s deadliest sins—drawing from an unreliable source.
Wikipedia is not a credible and authoritative source!
Chellah should acquaint himself with the Seigenthaler Incident also referred to as the Wikipedia Biography Incident. In 2005, American journalist John Seigenthaler was falsely accused of being directly involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy. After four months of investigation the accusation turned out to be a hoax and the anonymous source was traced. The incident raised questions about the credibility of Wikipedia sources.
Following the exposé business editor Larry Ingrassia of the New York Times circulated a memo informing his staff not to use Wikipedia as a source of information. “We shouldn’t be using it to check any information that goes into the newspaper.”
Ingrassia’s move led to a study of the accuracy of Wikipedia in December 2005 by the scientific journal Nature in 42 hard sciences related articles. The articles under study were found to contain four serious errors and 162 factual errors.
Following the study Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced on his sites that information was not to be taken on faith and reliability. Soon after, university professors around the world advised their students not to use Wikipedia as a credible and authoritative source. In my duties as an adjunct professor (lecturer) I give my media and history students a zero grade for Wikipedia citations.
Chellah should have known better. Instead he paraded the president in a white Neru gear before The Post photographer to scare the hell out of online media operatives. It clearly showed how infantile (immature), petty, vindictive and dangerous Chellah is. He has taken his Post mentality of contempt to State House and is subjecting the president to vendettas and innuendos, lowering the office of the president to nadir. How dare he!
The job of special assistant demands a qualified, proficient and skillful operative who plays a major role in bringing notability and decorum to the office of the president. He is a liaison between the government, the public, and the media. Major requirements of a special assistant include the ability to perform extensive research and maintain poise in high-stress environments. The president should have shopped better.
The whole assassination prank does not make sense. When the news came to Chellah’s attention he should have first weighed the gravity of the matter. Before briefing the president and informing the press, he should have checked with Reuters, AP (Associated Press), UPI (United Press International), and couriers BBC and CNN to see if anyone was carrying the story. At the same time he should have kept his ear to the ground for any reaction from the Zambian people.
The next step is important. He should NOT have simply read the hoax and dash to the president. He should have clicked the history tab at the top of the page and read its history. Every page on Wikipedia has a record of all the changes made to it that is banked in the page history. Page histories are understood by those who know and a special assistant to a head of state should know. The goal of reading a page history is to find out which editor made changes.
The history page tells you who has worked on the page. The date and time of the edit are displayed as blue ink. If the author is editing anonymously or using a pseudonym, he will be listed by either a username or IP (Internet Protocol) address.
In the case, for example, Chellah himself tries to implicate others by using a target’s email and password or the username an IP (Internet Protocol) address will be created. An IP address can be created in a public place, such as a library, Internet café, or in a tunnel. It is the most important tool in brisk investigations because it leads to the type of computer used, its serial number, and the log-in details of the editor. Example: If he tried to implicate John Dole, Chellah’s computer details will pop up.
It is welcome news that the president has ordered the country’s security wing to cohort with the UK and US governments in their search for the anonymous editor and the source of the prank.
The Joint Worldwide Intelligence Department (JWID) uses a high-level intelligence communications system to trace Internet sources even when they are erased. The system records the exact location of the computers, provides the time files were hacked into and transferred, models, serial numbers, and where the computers were purchased. If the Zambian government employs JWID the names of the hoax composer and the owner of the computer will be revealed. It would be interesting to know who the alarmist (terrorist) is.
While investigators are at it, let me give Chellah an assignment. Download the U.S. government investigation into Wikileaks and read how investigators traced an Army intelligence analyst who gave classified information to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Also, read the Casey Anthony vs. The State computer forensics report 08-069208 and see how agent Yuri Melich worked the computers.
Back to the IP address: Using the IP address, Chellah would have discovered the source of the hoax, at least the location. With the help of a tech-savvy operative he would have known the name and address of the owner of the computer. After gathering all the information he should have then briefed the president.
Working with the president Chellah should have composed a statement that zeroed on exposing the anonymous editor—nothing else. The press release should have contained facts—the name of the owner of the computer or the location from which a computer was used; time and date the edit was done; the IP address; and whether the person was a Zambian journalist, a mere hacker or an ill-bred blogger. I challenge Chellah to produce the author of the hoax in 90-days or be arrested for creating what he calls “panic and despondency.”
Chellah’s failure to give Zambians a detailed report is highly suspicious. He should reveal the “uncouth” website so that we in the media can confirm the hoax did indeed take place. It is rather unfortunate that very important national news on the hoax was watered down to political attacks, ranting and press muzzling. Threats flew left, right, and center directed at online journalists and writers in the Diaspora.
The outrageous statement released by Chellah that “we will let the State security wings chart the way forward” is synonymous with rogue, police and dictatorial regimes. It is language that severely restricts human rights. It is the world’s gravest threat to press freedom; a damning statement made in a country that claims to promote democracy and freedom of the press. The U.S. Embassy in Zambia must condemn such vitriol.
If the president is going to unleash State security agents to jump on the plane hunting for Journalists like deer he will be committing one of the worst heinous crimes under the Geneva Convention. The safety of journalists is a fundamental pillar of the universal, inalienable right to press freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates the right of people everywhere to receive and transmit information.
In the event of such threats I urge all Zambian journalists in the Diaspora to be brave and vigilant. Seek protection from the police in your area. Obtain a straining order if you can. If you see a suspicious looking man in a big coat, report him to the police. If he is discovered to be a hunter, we shall all join in revealing his identity and expose him to the world.
I for one will not be intimidated because my mission is clear. I am busy creating a future for my country. We should not fear for our future, we should shape it. I have written in my articles that I shall respect the president but not fear him. I have no quarrel with him and his party. I harbor no ultra-motive and I am not influenced by any political party or persons. I am an international journalist who adheres to journalistic conduct and ethics.
After the president has served his two terms in accordance with the Zambian Constitution, it will be time for a youthful leader to take us into cyber age. The two-term clause shall never be eviscerated. There shall be no third term in Zambia. All youthful people of Zambia get up and join me in the hunt for future youthful leadership.
Let me end by cautioning journalists with opposing views. You are the reason we find ourselves in this terrifying state. Stop writing garbage, trivia, fabrications and creating hoaxes. When you get into trouble we shall not bail you out.
Note: If you are a skeptic don’t insult me. Make a strong case for your doubts. Good ideas get wasted when they are trivialized. At least allow your heart to beat for the future of your children. Remember; I am not a stormy voice that breaks the calm. I am a peaceful voice that’s creating hope.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.