The job of a watchmaker is not to tell time, but to create an instrument with which you can tell what time it is. However, a watchmaker who doesn’t know what time it is cannot succeed in his job without misleading others.
Our job as journalists is to provide information through which you, the public can tell the kind of times we live in. However, if as reporters we are oblivious to the state of our nation, we are bound to misinform.
Every year on May 3, we journalists celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; we show cause why our existence in accordance with Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be defended. We pay tribute to journalists who have lost lives in the line of duty, and we remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the people’s rights to freedom of expression.
But if there are any journalists in Zambia this year who are celebrating World Press Freedom Day with a view to advancing any of the above causes, then they are not any different from those who are suppressing freedom of expression.
Today, we will march like we always do; we will listen to rhetoric from our media leaders demanding the same old Access to Information Bill, and we will hear more threats from government officials – sugarcoated in their commitment to protecting ETHICAL media houses. Like mourners at the funeral of a relative who succumbed to AIDS, we will regret the death of press freedom in Zambia without mentioning or condemning the killer.
But we know the truth and the truth has to be said. If there is any immunity left for journalists to report facts, then there is no better day to do so than May 3, 2017 when we join the Patriotic Front government under President Edgar Lungu as they celebrate their achievement in raping independent journalism. Like a time conscious watchmaker, we are alive to the fact that this PF government has captured private media in one way or another and is molesting it without a Vaseline – as Julius Malema put it.
From May 3, 2016 to date, journalists have made the biggest news headlines. This has been a year in which politicians reported the news they wanted the public to hear while journalists were on the run. A year when the civil society assumed a front row sit in witnessing injustice and chose to join the Church in doing nothing about it.
At News Diggers!, we watch in awe how this government has succeeded to pit journalist against journalist, media house against another, leaving no one to report the political injustices being inflicted on political parties and individuals who dare criticise those in power.
ZNBC is trying to stifle Prime TV using digital subscription fees while Muvi TV has been torn apart with the birth of Diamond TV. The Daily Nation is still celebrating the demise of The Post Newspaper while its own editorial independence is diminishing. Online media, which is now the most impactful mode of mass communication, has not been spared. News reported by UPND-sponsored journalists at Zambian Eagle has to be rebutted by PF-sponsored journalists at Smart Eagles. Zambian Watch has been pitted against Zambian Watchdog Mwebantu Vs Tumfweko, Zambia Reports Vs Zambian Intelligence or the other way round.
The damage caused to the media landscape has left an indelible mark on our democracy and the economy thereof. What is worse is that no one in government is listening. And while we are still on speaking the truth, we might as well say that our Minister of Information is empty.
We don’t mind the fact that President Edgar Lungu appointed a journalists to run the Ministry of Agriculture and a musician in charge of the Ministry of Justice – it is his party in power and he can choose who to appoint. But it is also within our right, at least for today, to inform him that if it was his intention to appoint the most ignorant person about journalism, to be in charge of the ministry of Information and Broadcasting, then he made a good choice in Honourable Kampamba Mulenga.
We pity those vastly experienced journalists who work as directors under Honourable Mulenga because even though they can’t say it, they know that their ministry is on standstill until a knowledgeable person, who doesn’t necessarily need to be a journalist, takes over.
We say Honourable Mulenga is empty because we have interacted with her and we believe that she doesn’t clearly understand the role of the media and the institutions which regulate media operations.
When the International Press Institute admitted News Diggers! as a fully paid up member, and implored the PF government to respect the role of private media, our Information Minister had this to say:
“We as government, welcome News Diggers! if it is going to comply with the ethics. If it is in compliance with the regulations stipulated under the IBA it shall be protected. News can be bad or good but, as long as it is factual.”
We wondered which clause of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act is responsible for regulating online media.
A simple check on the IBA website would have helped the minister realise that the Authority is responsible for regulating the broadcasting industry in Zambia, by granting renewing, suspending and cancelling RADIO and TELEVISION broadcast licences; not online media.
When Honourable Mulenga went to ZNBC to familiarise herself with the operations of the national broadcaster, she told staff that she was impressed with the professional work done by Radio One, Radio Two, RADIO THREE and Radio Four. How many people in Zambia don’t know that there is no RADIO THREE at Mass Media?
Even if we are to negotiate for tolerance from the PF government on our special Day, where do we start from?
Honourable Mulenga boasts that it is only her government that has managed to issue 110 radio stations licenses across the country and 67 television broadcasting licences; but is it a secret that this is the only government in Zambia’s history which managed to shut down four critical private media organisations in less that six months?
Today as we commemorate World Press Freedom Day in Zambia, we must realise that we are saying goodbye to press freedom. Those of us in the private media will be conceding defeat to a ruthless regime unless we resist the paymaster and stick to ethical, credible journalism. Yes there is still hope, but we will never regain our journalistic liberty until we end the hatred between journalist and journalist, the scheming by one media house against another.