– They don’t research
– They are ill informed on many topics
– They ask basic and mundane questions on serious topics
– They lack training
May I begin by paying a glowing tribute to our press men and women for their unrivalled contribution to the growth of our democracy.
As a Fourth Estate (or fourth power) the media wields significant influence on society .
The media is there to INFORM and help FORM public opinion on issues of national importance. It therefore goes without saying that what the media focuses on as news has a direct impact in shaping public discourse and eventually shaping the type of society people will have. If the media focuses so much on trivia and petty political squabbles at the expense of serious political, social and economic issues then it reduces the whole public debate to dust bin trivialities were those who insult and shout the loudest or those who have more money to dish out are favoured to rule at the expense of those who contest political office on the basis of ideas, intellectual prowess, integrity, ability, commitment and a high sense of wisdom.
Our journalists and the media are beseeched with numerous challenges and alot must be done to change the way our media conducts itself and help shape public discourse.
First, it seems that petty squabbles and exchange of vulgarities among our politicians is what seems to be news in Zambia. Most media houses in this country are giving too much prominence to stories carrying cheap and childish political rhetoric by our politicians at the expense of serious issues affecting our people. Serious stories that deal with serious issues affecting people’s lives are never given prominence. A story about Chishimba Kambwili insulting the President will take prominence over a story which talks about the National Budget, for instance. The media will spend tonnes and tonnes of their time covering the insults as opposed to covering the budget.
This behaviour by the media has reduced our public discourse to trivia, innuendo and gossip, as a result one doesn’t need to talk about important issues to win elections, all you need is to acquire the ability to malign and mudsling your opponents with malice, lies and propaganda and Bingo, you are the next leader.
Secondly, many Zambian journalists don’t take time to research on most topics they ask questions on. Every day I see or hear journalists interviewing people on topics that they the journalists themselves have little or limited knowledge of. I have been interviewed on topics such as the The Seventh National Development Plan, The Vision 2030, Sustainable Goals and I could clearly tell that the ones interviewing me were actually ill-informed; they had very little knowledge of concerned topics.
This lack of research is what makes some journalists ask very basic and mundane questions on very serious topics. And also this allows politicians to have a field day misleading the public with lies without being challenged since the one who must challenge the interviewee has no data herself.
Thirdly, most media houses are doing very little or nothing at all in training their staff in specialised training with regards to coverage of news. You find that the same journalist who is covering sports, is the same guy covering legal news, economic news, political news and even Chintobentobe.
There is need to train journalists in specific fields so they can become experts in those fields. That way they would be more competent to handle and investigate certain topics.
Fourth, there is too much caderism and less professionalism among our journalists and media houses. One can easily see how certain journalists and media houses are aligning themselves with particular political parties, throwing all semblance of professionalism and ethics through the window. This caderism is killing the freedom, balance and fairness in the coverage of news and other topical issues.
Fifth, the conditions of service for most journalists are pathetic. This has resulted in having a cadre of media gurus who are demotivated and who can easily be compromised.
Our journalists deserve better pecks and improved conditions of service because they are the salt of our society; they are the ones who inform and help form public opinion and to treat them as mere conduits is unacceptable and a recipe for gutter and yellow journalism.
By Antonio Mwanza
PF deputy media director