The world theme for the World Press Freedom Day is: ‘Journalism under surveillance’.
How would you interpret that in today’s media environment in Zambia?
Journalism is one of the riskiest professions in the world. According to a 2021 report by Reporters without Borders, “a record number of journalists – 488, including 60 women – are currently detained worldwide, while another 65 are being held hostage. Meanwhile, the number of journalists killed in 2021 – 46 – is at its lowest in 20 years”. Journalists have always been under surveillance for the simple reason that journalists expose the truth in relation to governance issues and government officials, particularly as an increasing number of people get their news online. The difference is, now that we have entered the digital age, governments have more tools at their disposal to surveil journalists: hacking, spyware, cloning, blocking of websites, internet shutdowns or slowdowns, auto bots, digital interception. According to Freedom House, in 2013 government blocked four independent online news websites. In 2015 two journalists took a mobile phone company to court for allegedly intercepting their text messages.
What opportunities and challenges do you see in the practice of journalism on the cyber space?
1. Regulation of the media: most media houses are a thorn in the flesh of governments all around the world. There is great temptation to try and control the media through various laws including laws that regulate the media. Statutory “self-regulation” is also a form of control. Journalists will do well to proceed with caution in considering this option. It will not protect journalists from being subjected to all other laws and as we saw in 2017 with the Law Association of Zambia, governments can threaten to repeal statutes governing professional bodies.
2. News is moving at a faster speed than ever before. That can be a good thing because people are getting their news in real time, but it also means that peoples’ attention is divided and the temptation to create sensational headlines or news to capture peoples’ attention is real. May lead to misinformation and disinformation – otherwise known as fake news.
3. Easier to hack and monitor journalists and their work. Journalism is a risky business. Journalists risk being arrested, detained, and even physically harmed.
4. Media houses struggle to monetise online journalism and actually make it profitable. News Diggers leading the way in this regard.
5. Some of the more traditional media forms are struggling to keep up with the speed of today’s news e.g., television and print media.
1. Once you figure out how to monetise it you can potentially make more money as you have a much wider reach including the Zambian diaspora and other foreign markets.
2. There is constant innovation in the digital space. Just a few years ago, platforms such as Zoom and Twitter spaces, Facebook live did not exist. It makes it easier and cheaper to reach people you want to interview and your audience.
3. Fact checking – with all the misinformation and disinformation this is becoming increasingly important.
4. There is need for more balanced analysis and commentary to sieve through the noise of all the information at our disposal.
How would describe in General the policy and legal framework governing the digital space in Zambia?
The policy and legal framework governing the digital space is more skewed towards State security rather than protecting ordinary citizens which is to be expected. We need to update the right to privacy to give citizens full protection online. Also need to accommodate rights such as freedom of expression more and only limit that right where it is absolutely necessary.
How can civil society, the media and government work together to ensure a free and conducive cyber environment in Zambia?
1. Train and educate ordinary citizens on digital security
2. Defend and protect the rights of journalists that come under attack
3. Hold government to account when bad governance issues and breaches of the rule of law are exposed
1. Provide accurate information
2. Speak truth to power
4. Investigative journalism
1. Enact the Access to Information Act to allow citizens and journalists access to public information
2. Stop internet shutdowns
3. Respect rights and freedoms of citizens including freedom of expression and freedom of media
4. Increase access to the internet by making it more affordable – in this modern digital age access to the internet should be a right
5. Update the constitutional right to privacy for citizens’ protection in the modern world.