We have no doubt that Honourable Dora Siliya is the most capable minister in the entire PF government to run the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. But we are afraid that the zeal she is exhibiting together with her advisors in order to impress the appointing authority will make her the most unpopular minister among journalists.
Madam Siliya may have very good intentions for the news industry, and we support some of the reforms she is suggesting; such us weeding out ill-motivated news publishers who have tarnished the image of journalism in Zambia. If carefully done in consultation with stakeholders, this would benefit both society and the media fraternity.
But some of the rules that her ministry is imposing on journalists clearly expose the Chief Government spokesperson as an overexcited leader who is desperate to make her weight felt by the people she is leading.
We say this in line with a signed regulation issued by her office last week, imposing a strict dress code for news reporters. Apart from dictating how and where journalists should stand when capturing government dignitaries, the regulation was made to the effect that journalists would no longer be allowed to wear bright colours when covering state functions.
“It has been decided that appropriate attire should either be dark suits and ties, national dress or any other formal attire when covering state functions. Any journalist clad in jeans, slacks, tights, minis, topless attires or any attire inappropriate for the function will be turned away by security,” acting Permanent Secretary Beaton Kaluba ordered.
We have a friendly but candid message for madam Siliya and her acting Permanent Secretary Kaluba. This is a foolish and selfish directive that must be reversed with an apology. It’s a rule created by misinformed minds and supported by a clueless leadership that is so detached from the realities in the media industry.
This ignorance also proves that the PF government has no concern for the plight of journalists; they have never cared to explore the conditions under which reporters gather and disseminate news. All they are interested in are good headlines which can prolong their stay in power. If they conducted a survey to understand how much reporters get paid in Zambia, they would be speaking for the poor youths instead of ordering them to look elegant.
This Kaluba man needs to understand that the Ministry of Information is not only for ZNBC and Daily Mail where journalists can afford to drive to work from reasonably good taxpayer’s salaries. That ministry is for all media houses, including community radio and television stations where reporters work as volunteers to serve their society.
More than 75 per cent of practicing journalists in Zambia today cannot afford to buy enough talk-time to conduct interviews, they rely on “so che” promotions and “free social media” internet bundles. They are poor. Is the ministry saying that such journalists are not allowed to cover state functions because they can’t afford to buy clothes that conform to the imposed dress code?
Madam Siliya and her bunch of technocrats cannot dictate to these poor journalists that they should hide their poverty in fancy “dark suits” when covering a president who claims to lead a pro-poor government. If journalists dress in salaula clothes, that is a reflection of the hardships that they endure in their work. That is the mirror image of the economy which the same President is presiding over. Like we have said in the past, let those in leadership deal with the cause of the problem not the symptom.
In fact, this is not the first time that government is attempting to impose a dress code on reporters. We recall that around 2012 when he was Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary, Mr Amos Malupenga guided journalists to dress smartly when going to cover State House. But he messed up a good intention by dragging a TBN reporter to humiliate him in front of cameras for wearing a green turtleneck (mukame). Journalists from all other media houses had no kind words for Mr Malupenga because they felt he went too far.
Indeed, dictating that journalists should wear only dark colour suits at all State functions is going too far. Rules are meant to create order, to resolve and prevent disputes in our communities. They are never meant to enslave human beings. This is the reason why those who are privileged with authority to create laws are obliged to consult the people they lead in order the understand the prevailing circumstances. That is the only way that you can arrive at a win-win situation, but our government leaders in charge of media seem to have no regard for the plight of journalists.
Please madam Siliya, stop frustrating the already oppressed industry. We have enough press freedom challenges to deal with, and we believe that you have more serious crises to resolve for the people of Zambia. Therefore, our dressing should not take center stage on your agenda. Our reporters don’t come to cover state events dressed like Zodwa Wabantu, or like Diffikoti and Bikkiloni, so we don’t see where the problem is here.
We do appreciate that there could be one or two journalists who may have a habit of dressing like chameleons at important events, but it is unfair to impose a dress code that affects the rest of the already appropriately dressed reporters.
How fair can it be for the police command to slap a public dress code on its officers just because Mr Bonny Kapeso likes wearing suites which look like a floor mat painting?
In the same vein, we can’t condemn all ZNBC newscasters just because of one Ormond Musonda who dresses like an angry peacock. It’s not fair!