JOURNALISTS must be careful to report news in the correct context, especially in a general election year, to avoid unnecessary conflicts with sources, says Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga.

Speaking during the official opening of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) two-day workshop on the Safety of Journalists in Zambia, Malupenga urged journalists to carefully report their news in the correct context to maintain effective communication to avoid unnecessary conflict.

“Journalists should also pay particular attention to the context of their reports because anything reported out of context is likely to cause conflict between the media and the affected sources of news,” Malupenga told participants at the Sarovar Hotel in Lusaka, Thursday.

“Maybe, let me give you an example: sometimes, we take the liberty, as journalists, to interpret events or words, which have been said, but context is very important. I will cite one example: the other Friday, His Excellency (President Edgar Lungu) was officiating at Arcades, launching the new fly-over bridge, and as he was delivering his speech, he made reference to his encounter in Luapula Province. So, he started by saying, ‘let me apologise to those who may be sensitive to certain words or expressions, and recently, during my tour of duty, we were in Luapula Province, and the people of Luapula were encouraging us on what we are doing,’ saying: ‘Your Excellency, don’t listen to those who are criticising you and your government because as far as we are concerned, the PF government is doing a lot of work but…ifipuba filetalika’ something to that effect. So, he says, ‘I found that expression to drive the point home very well because there is a lot that we are doing and people are criticising’.”

He added that the media had a responsibility to accurately report the context to ensure effective communication and not create the wrong impression.

“…So, I am trying to talk about context in which we report. Sometimes, we create a storm in a tea cup so context is always important; if we put in proper context, it becomes very easy to communicate. These days, it’s rare to read that, ‘jokingly, he said this…’ Describe the mood because when someone is talking, sometimes, they pass jokes and jokes are reported as a statement of fact,” Malupenga said.

He stressed that while citizens had the constitutional right to information, the news media had a big role to play in promoting a safe working environment, particularly in an election year, to guarantee their safety.

“Citizens have a constitutional right to information and the media, as messengers of that information, should be allowed to carry out this noble responsibility in a free and safe environment. The freedom and safety of the media to inform, educate and entertain the public, is therefore, non negotiable, as guaranteed in the laws of the land. However, as we have observed before, this is not a one-sided affair. The media, too, has a big role to play in promoting a safe working environment for themselves, by adhering to high ethical and professional standards in their work. This is particularly crucial during elections when tempers of contestants and their supporters are usually high. The media should be at their best, ethically and professionally, during such times so that no one takes advantage of any professional lapse in their work to harass them, though this should never be an excuse for lawlessness,” said Malupenga.

The IBA workshop on Safety of Journalists is the second in a series of capacity-building activities lined up under the Democracy Strengthening in Zambia (DSZ) Project conducted ahead of next year’s crucial general election.

Resolutions are set to be passed in collaboration with media owners and editors to be communicated to the public, Monday, November 16, 2020, through a press briefing at the IBA, which will also be communicated to relevant institutions, such as the police and political parties.