German ambassador to Zambia Achim Burkart says of all the newspapers in Zambia, News Diggers stands out as one that comes closest to investigative and analytical news reporting.
And Ambassador Burkart says he expects to see further stifling of media freedoms as the country draws near to the 2021 general elections because government has not done enough to protect the press.
Further, Burkart says the proposal by government to introduce statutory media regulation would injure freedom of the press in some way, suggesting that the press should self-regulate because the media has rules and regulations that guide the profession.
Speaking when he addressed participants at the ongoing investigative and fact-checking media training organised by News Diggers in partnership with Interlink Academy of Germany at MISA-Zambia offices, Monday, Burkart said he reads four daily newspapers every morning, but he still doesn’t feel informed.
“Every day I read at least four Zambian newspapers, I watch some news on TV and browse the different online media including social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but I am sorry to say this, I really don’t feel sufficiently informed on what is happening in this country. I witness black and white stands on both sides of the political spectrum. In-depth reports in which all sides are heard and reflected, this is missing. I want to appeal to editors, give space for this kind of information. I talk to quiet a number of journalists during the last three years in the country. They would like to disseminate that kind of in-depth journalism, but they are not allowed by the Editors-In-Chief because the Editors-In-Chief look on the black and white picture,” he said.
Asked if he found news content to be too politicised, Ambassador Burkart said there was depth in the reports, and praised News Diggers for coming closest to filling the gap.
“I feel sometimes that it’s very repetitive. So it’s like ‘Mr A said ABCD… Mr B said ABCD…’ so it’s just a repetition of what has been said. While me as a consumer of media information, what I needs is not just a repetition of speech. What I want to know as a consumer is also to put that in context and that is something that I really miss. I think News Diggers is the only newspaper at the moment which tries and strives for that idea which tries to inform and show different positions. News Diggers is what comes closest to investigative reporting and analysis. But still, it’s too much repetitive of what has happened. It will be much more interesting if you could delve much into what has happened because from the analysis, the reader can make his own opinion. So i think this training is the right way to go,” he said.
Ambassador Burkart becomes the second foreign diplomat to recognise News Diggers as an outstanding publication after former British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet described it as “not a yes bwana newspaper”.
And the Germany Envoy said press freedom must be protected by the government at all times.
“We are trying to support freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of opinion in this country. Free press in Zambia is something which has great importance to us and I think it’s just one of the most important features of any democracy. I came just shortly before the 2016 elections and I witnessed how the pressure on the press stepped up in front of the elections. So my educated guess is that it will happen again. I think the pressure on the press will increase,” Burkart said.
“I am not very optimistic about protection of the press [as the country heads towards the elections in 2021] because I saw how it went before the last election and having been part of the observer mission, all the recommendations we made which are still there… We have talked about these recommendations with the government and we even had the idea that it could be a good idea if there had been a national dialogue, which unfortunately didn’t take place. We thought that this might be a basis for a dialogue between all stakeholders in society and NDF is not the national dialogue I am talking about. So these kind of things must perhaps be supported and I think ECZ has a crucial role to play in the next election to try and prepare well for the elections and press and media freedom is one part of this process.”
Burkart also noted that the pending proposal by government to introduce statutory regulation of the media would be an injury to democracy.
“My personal view and also the view of my government is that the press should self-regulate and not be regulated by the government. If you step overhead, you might have consequences. So this self-regulation, I think it’s important because then you have the process in your hands as being journalists and media houses and you don’t have anybody else to talk and regulate you,” said Ambassador Burkart.