NEWS Diggers Media Limited has partnered with government, through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, to offer free advertising, radio and television sponsorship for COVID-19 sensitisation programmes.

And Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya has commended News Diggers and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) for showing patriotism in raising awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unveiling the partnership during a media briefing held at the Ministry of Information, Monday, News Diggers Editor-In-Chief Joseph Mwenda explained that the campaign was being conducted in collaboration with OSISA, and it was meant to encourage behavioural change among citizens.

“We are disturbed as a newspaper to see that a lot of people in Zambia are not taking the fight against COVID-19 very seriously; people are not hand sanitising, people are not practicing social distance, people are not wearing masks. So we have come on board to partner with the Ministry of Information and other relevant government organisations to escalate this awareness campaign. Our approach is that we want to go intensive on social media, radio, television as well as online via Zoom or webinars. Already, we have partnered with some radio stations, we started a programme with Breeze FM in Chipata, it’s a 13 series programme and we actually hosted the Minister of Infrastructure Development Honourable Vincent Mwale who was talking about his experience. We are doing the same here in Lusaka, we have partnered with Radio Phoenix, from here we are also going to be talking to Hot FM, Joy FM and several other media partners. We have also partnered with Diamond TV and we are going to be having various TV programmes,” Mwenda said.

“These programmes are open to government officials and they can go on those platforms and be able to educate the people because we understand that as the media, we have only been reporting statistics but we’ve done very little to wage a serious campaign to educate the people. We want to make sure that when someone opens Facebook for example, one of the first things they will be able to see is an awareness message about COVID-19. People need to know where they will be able to get verified facts, people need to know the emergency numbers and the symptoms of COVID-19 as they browse social media. Sometimes there are so many myths that people in rural areas associate with as to how this virus is spread. So to demystify that, it is upon us as media houses to partner in this particular campaign that we are launching [today] because this is really not a fight for the government, it is not a fight for the party in power, it is a fight for every Zambian.

Asked how much money has been set aside for the campaign, Mwenda said the funds where segmented in different categories as there was also an allocation for investigative reporting around accountability for COVID-19 donations.

“It’s difficult to single out the amount towards social media or radio and television sponsorship because the package that we have set aside has different segments. There is a segment where resources have been allocated to investigative reporting towards accountability. You need to understand that we are not stopping our work, obviously there are donations being made and it is our responsibility to investigate how the monies are being utilised,”said Mwenda inviting private and public media journalists to take interest in the reporting opportunity.

“And by the way, if you are a private media journalist or a public media journalist and you want to do a very good investigative story, we are able to partner with you, finance your needs and make sure you do that investigation, you can get in touch with our office,” said Mwenda.

In response, Siliya, who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, commended News Diggers and its partners for being patriotic in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today must be a landmark occasion because hearing you speak, I think that it is a reflection of what civilised engagement should be. I think the impression that government and private media should always be fighting is an erroneous one. I am extremely pleased that this initiative to partner with the Ministry of Information on a critical national matter is coming from you and this is why I have referred to it as civilised engagement. I think it is patriotic because you are saying ‘this is my country and the media is not an island, we are in this together’. I think that is extremely important. We in the ministry of information and the rest of the government have been very concerned because even media personnel are affected by COVID-19 directly or indirectly. So this is why I am extremely pleased that you have taken this initiative. For us we are partners of all media in Zambia. As a ministry, our job is to hold the hand of all media including private media. And sometimes you have to hold our hand too like today,” said Siliya.

“Our concern has been that people know about corona but to move from that point to behavioural change is where we are having a challenge. People must really change in terms of behaviour, like you rightly said, government cannot fight this alone. We need all partners to fight the stigma first of all because we have noticed that there is a stigma, people are hiding, and they believe that by telling their colleagues that they’ve got corona they might be ostracised in society. Number two, the myth that young people cannot get coronavirus is a serious myth. That’s why we are very happy that you are coming in full force with the use of new media such as social media so that we can reach a very specific demographic segment of our society and that is the youth. So really we can only congratulate you News Diggers for such patriotism for your country and really putting on record that the media does not operate in a vacuum; you operate in a real environment and in this environment we’ve got there is something called corona and we all have to address it because nobody is spared.”

Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga who was also present at the briefing encouraged News Diggers and other media to champion behavioural change.

“Indeed this is a milestone, the the minister rightly observed. Usually it is us [as] government who go to media house asking for partnerships, but in this case, it the media coming to us, private media for that matter, because there is always that perceived hostility between private media and government. They are not just coming to ask for partnership, they have brought the resources. How else can we thank that gesture? For us, it is just to effectively utilise the platforms because we really need to reach out to the people. As we have heard, the challenge so far has been to effect behaviour change. I don’t know is we first have to see images like we saw in Spain, Italy for people to change behaviour. They say it’s better to learn from the mistakes of others than to learn from your own mistakes. If we have to wait until we start dying in thousands for us to effect behavioural change, is that where we want to be? So I think this partnership has come a the right time, and we will make sure that we effectively use the platforms for us to reach out,” said Malupenga.