On Wednesday this week, Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo held a joint press conference with her counterpart from the Ministry of General Education David Mabumba and Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya. The aim of the press conference was to update the nation, through the media, on the preparedness of learning institutions across the country to reopen after the containment of the Cholera outbreak.
But something else was burning inside Prof Luo’s heart. Two days earlier, she was in the Constitutional Court for ruling in the appeal case regarding her election as Munali member of parliament, which was nullified by the High Court. The ruling was not made on that day because the Constitutional Court first wanted the High Court to verify the video evidence. However, our media organisation erroneously published on the News Diggers! website and Facebook page, a breaking news story to the effect that the Constitutional Court had upheld the High Court ruling and Prof Luo’s parliamentary seat had been nullified. Upon realising that we had gotten wrong information, we immediately deleted the story within minutes and apologised to our readers for misleading them. Unfortunately, thousands of people had already, within the few minutes, shared the story on other social media platforms.
At the Wednesday joint press conference, before telling the nation when universities would reopen, Prof Luo took some minutes roasting us. She brought out the misleading story as an example of how dangerous social media is. The minister used our mistake to demonstrate that social media in Zambia was being used to destroy the country.
“I just want to say to the public that social media in Zambia has come to destroy and not to build. If we are not careful as a people, we are going to land ourselves into deep trouble. Just yesterday or the day before yesterday, the News Diggers! reported that Munali constituency had been nullified; and it went viral on the media and so on. I think this is not healthy for our country. I think we need to do something about it because we have the responsibility as the people of Zambia, especially us the adults, to protect our children that are coming in future. I’m very worried about the rate of lying that is going on. As a country we need to rise and do something about the social media and the lying that is going around,” said Prof Luo.
We would like to say that Prof Luo had the right to be upset with us. It was very justifiable for her to roast us in front of other media organisations so that the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation could spread the news, as they did, to the rest of the country on their 19:00 hours main news bulletin that News Diggers! in Lusaka published a misleading story. We deserved the condemnation and we also understand how our mistake offended Pro Luo and our readers.
We already apologised for the inconvenience we caused to our readers moments after noticing our blunder, but our writing today is to specifically say sorry to Prof Nkandu Luo. We would like the minister to understand that we admit our mistake, we have embraced her constructive criticism and anger.
We would have loved to narrate how an alert organisation like ours could have been so careless to mess up on a very simple court story that didn’t even need any investigation, but we cannot manage to do so without pointing fingers at each other within our organisation. What really matters is that we made a blunder and the whole institution has to collectively take the blame and face the consequences.
What the Higher Education Minister and the public might not know is that this mistake broke our hearts. After a correction had already been made, we called back those who were in the field to report for an urgent editorial meeting at which we reviewed our blunder. It was a depressing meeting because we realised that this was the biggest scandal that had hit our organisation since its establishment in 2016.
We discussed the fact that our mistake spoke against our very editorial principal of not delighting in scoops, but focusing on authentic news that cannot be disputed. We resolved to scrutinise our own internal correspondence more strictly to avoid making the same mistake again in future. Most importantly, we encouraged ourselves not to stay broken by the mess, but to pick up the pieces and focus on regaining the trust of some of our readers who may use our past mistake as a reason for not believing our news anymore. Those interested in verifying our remorsefulness can contact any of our members of staff using details at the bottom of the News Diggers! website to confirm that indeed this meeting took place, and the blunder was addressed with the seriousness it deserved.
In the history of journalism, there is no media organisation in the world that can claim to have never made a mistake of any magnitude. But we do not take comfort in that because this experience has taught us that one mistake is too many to cost the reputation of a newspaper. Readers easily forget all the scoops you may have carried, but they never quite forget the mistake you made.
Ironically, the Minister of Higher Education is now using us as an example of irresponsible media houses, when our primary goal is in fact to fight fake news and take over the digital media space as a credible news outlet. We agree with Prof Luo that some social media platforms in Zambia were created with the sole purpose of defaming or scandalising specific private individuals and government leaders. That is why, although we deleted and apologised for misleading the public with our two-paragraph story, several social media platforms that rely on stealing our news content without even crediting, are still running with the false story which they copied, spiced up with salt and onion, to hurt the Professor and ourselves. But it was never our intention to put the minister in such bad light. We strive so hard to be the most credible source of news in Zambia and we plead with our readers not to discard us for the mistake we made.
To some extent, we were humbled to learn that the minister actually reads even the online version of our newspaper. We felt that maybe she actually hates the fact that she loves us. But whatever the case, we apologise unreservedly for any inconvenience, malice and hate speech she was subjected to as a result of our misleading story. Our prayer is that the Constitutional Court does not eventually nullify the minister’s election as Munali MP because it will hurt us even more to appear like we were prophets of doom.
We have learnt so many things from this mistake which will help us grow. The only lesson we would ask Prof Luo to pick is that you lose nothing when you acknowledge being wrong. It doesn’t kill to accept when you make a mistake and apologise where need be. If Prof Luo has accepted our apology, we would like to assure her that Zambians; university students and parents will also accept her apology if she admits making some mistakes in her position as Higher Education minister. The same applies to the two other ministers she was with at the press conference; if they mishandled the Cholera effect on learning institutions, none of them will die if they say sorry to the affected citizens.
We are very sorry Prof Luo, please forgive us.