The Media in Zambia is destructive

By Maurice Makalu

It is plain for everybody to see: Zambia is in a crisis.

Even more worrying is how people are shamelessly making careers out of blaming. The media is angry at the politician; the politician is incest at the media. The people feel robbed and betrayed by the government, the government feels the people don’t appreciate the good it is doing. The NGO feels the government is not doing enough, the government feels the NGO is being political. The church feels the government lacks integrity and compassion for people; the government feels the church is interfering in something that is none of its business.

Everybody is just blaming everybody. And those you think are supposed to provide leadership are even being paid for their blaming and complaining. Blaming and complaining are careers in Zambia today. They are lucrative business!

As Zambia is a democracy in the making, the media must set itself apart and LEAD the way. Democracy is defined as the rule of the people, by the people for the people. In a democracy, the people, not the leaders, are the masters. The media has a critical and leading role to play to make this a reality.

While the first step of making people masters, holding regular credible elections, has been taken care of by the constitution, the second and more critical step, holding elected leaders accountable, needs the media’s robust and professional performance. The media will undoubtedly face censorship, intimidation, obstruction, harassment and such from the people in power because mostly people do not want to be accountable (you can see how husbands do not disclose their salaries to wives), but the media itself must be responsible in how it carries out its duties. Zambia’s media today, both private and government, is more destructive than constructive.

I wish that the word ‘media’ came from ‘middle’, but wishes are not horses. The polarization of both government and private media in Zambia today is just way too streetwise. It serves nobody (apart from keeping some people in their jobs and making others profits). One even wonders who the real source of political immaturity in Zambia is: Is it the politician or the media?

It is true that it takes guts to call a spade a spade, and we applaud that. But it takes wisdom to get a spade to serve you (instead of hurting you). You cannot call it a spoon either, because then it will not serve you as a spade. Zambians want to be served and it helps us more if the media can use wisdom to get ‘spades’ to do the job we elected them to do rather than just end on branding them names and such. Come to the centre please. Zambia needs you there now more than ever.

Your job as media is to ‘Press the national agenda, not the person.’ As the press, ‘pressing’ is your everyday business, only mind what you press: the agenda, not the person. Raise the agenda to the politicians every chance you get.
An example: An over enthusiastic cadre behaves violently. You want a presidential candidate to state his stand on this obvious for all to see outrageous behavior.
***Pressing the agenda: the general questioning is: “what’s your comment, what’s your view, what do you say about, what is your stand…etc.” He evades the question, bring him back to it. Tomorrow, the next day and the next. And keep reporting to the readership that he is tight lipped.

***Pressing the person: he remains tight lipped and you conclude that he supports, condones and sponsors violence. You call him a militia and all sorts of names. You are pressing the person not the agenda. You wanted his opinion, he held it from you (he has a right to). You will be putting words in his mouth when you conclude what his silence means. You are no longer reporting, you are spewing opinions. You have taken it upon yourself to influence the readership to your ‘considered’ position. You are not a journalist anymore.

If the next day he calls for peaceful behavior without condemning an established past violent act and you brand him a ‘peace maker’ for that, you too are pressing the person. You are giving headlines to hypocrites. You are contributing to political immaturity in Zambia just to keep your job.

Come to the centre please. As the media, pressing is your job. You know it the best. Do it. On the agenda not the person. Report facts, what was said and done; not said and done; what was expected to be said and done and was said and done; and what was expected to be said and done but was not said and done. Seek not to create images of the character of politicians in the minds of the readers. Let the people form their own images and attach their own labels to them based on the facts and figures you give them. They are smart enough.

Report; do not postulate. Investigate; do not accuse. Expose; do not allege. Ask; do not conclude. This will better empower the people to exercise their power over the state more effectively and constructively. Zambia belongs to Zambians and we are capable of saving it. Just help us as media by displaying your professionalism. Live objectivity, do not just claim and preach it.

The Author, Maurice Makalu is the chairperson of the Zambian Renaissance

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