This is what was wrong with LAZ statement on public media

By Daniel Nyirenda

The statement in the Post Newspaper dated 3nd July was an intellectual error of judgment because the LAZ president Musa Mwenye (in the photo) addressed his mind to the symptoms thereby missing the real problem faced by media houses in Zambia, instead he started blaming the public-owned media houses, if the analysis was broader and supported by experience and research, a different set of prescriptions could have been reached.

We need to think hard and collaboratively about the choices that the media in Zambia has and then pursue a common frame work that allows us to move into a new era.

However this can only be done if we correctly identify the problem and then work toward finding a long lasting solution. Unfortunately the debate in Zambia is focusing on a different set of questions, which is usually uninformed and usually based on political preferences.

It’s not about which groups of media houses are producing libel contents, the real question is what reforms should be implemented for the media in Zambia to be relevant to demands of modern society so as to contribute positively to democracy, creation of employment and distribution of income?

The idea that the reform of state owned media alone can deliver quick growth of the media in Zambia is nothing but a mirage. There is need to develop a media regulation system for all the players and not what was propagated by the legal power house. Reforms in the government owned media without accompanying regulation of the private media can not positively contribute to increased professionalism. Reforms in one area without sequencing can have disastrous consequences.

So the point here is that there is need to base arguments for media reform on the prevailing established relationship between variables and not personal judgments of what is significant. There is nothing wrong for LAZ to advocate for a policy change in the operations of the media in Zambia, but research teaches us that anyone advocating for policy reform should  show the criteria which has been used as a basis for the prescription. In other words; what data was used? How was it collected? and lastly How was it analyzed? to arrive at the assertion( Research Methodology). The conclusion that Z.N.B.C and not other private media houses are biased in news coverage should have been supported by research data. Who knows, if basic research data collection tools such as interviews for primary data, court reports for secondary data, and many other research analysis tools were used the conclusion might have been different. In this situation were empirical evidence has not been provided; its acceptable to speculate that data was not collected in line with standard research requirements or might have been faulty.

It’s widely recognized that the quality of data used in any analysis has an effect on the validity of the findings! Mind you, (Garbage In Garbage Out, GIGO). Who knows, the Post Newspaper or even another media house may have more lawsuits for libel against it than Z.N.B.C or vise-versa, instead of speculating on which sector is guilty, empirical data would have provided reliable knowledge on this debate so as to be used as inputs into policy but in the present case there is no other choice but to dismiss those statements by the LAZ president as mere opinions which may not present a correct view.

The point here is not to push for my particular conception of which media house is biased in its coverage but to emphasize that prescriptions on the necessary reforms to be made in the media should be based on empirical facts as revealed by research and not subjective personal judgments!

Of course some leaders of opposition political parties would blame the current government and president Rupiah Banda, but they forget that R.B is also a victim of the unregulated practice of journalism in this country. For example in the run up to the 2008 bye-election, R.B applied to the High Court for an Injunction to restrain the Post Newspaper from publishing libel materials against him, as it was likely to undermine his chances of election to the Office of President, the Post Newspaper did not stop, even after the Court intervened which prompted R.B to commence contempt proceedings against it which case has not yet been disposed off to date. So how can someone blame R.B who was, and still is the victim of the present media system? The answer could be that either the people blaming R.B are not familiar with the facts or they are blinkered by an ideology which is not supported by facts and research.

In my view, the media crisis in Zambia is a political crisis because players in the media industry are unable to decide on the necessary measures; instead they waste time by addressing secondary issues largely rooted in corporate policy concerns just as was the case with the statement from the LAZ president.

Therefore the real problem is lack of strong institutions in the country and the fact that creation of the needed institutions does not take place overnight but is hardly a smooth or speedy process. Furthermore, media houses naturally cherish lack of regulation and professionalism as evidenced by the hurdles that have been faced so far in trying to establish a system for media regulation.

Some would argue that the government is the one delaying the process because recommendations have already been made for media reform; this could be true to the extent that recommendations have been made but the contention by government is that the quality of these recommendations leaves much to be desired.

The inner world of those entrusted to make recommendations for media reform was marked by personal and principled discord, while committee members tried to be dispassionate, their own judgment, predilections and interest necessarily entered their work, and some championed their own agendas, whether openly or cunningly. Even when all involved tried to rise above pettiness and partiality, making recommendations for media reform is always difficult and committee members occasionally  confessed privately that unambiguous, impartial criteria for making recommendations are not at hand and never will .

What we need is honest debate and not evasion or stone walling between LAZ, private media, CSO and the public media houses and government.

The prevailing manner in the way the Post Newspaper, Radio Stations and many others private media houses report as well as Z.N.B.C, and other public owned media houses is just a manifestation of the symptoms of lack of standards, the solution lies in addressing the cause of the disease and not debating on secondary issues of corporate policy.



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