Our beloved Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo is at it again. On Wednesday she took her differences with media organisations to the National Assembly, telling her fellow members of parliament that she had seen too much irresponsible journalism in Zambia.
She announced to the House that in order to improve journalism standards in the country, her ministry was going to start offering bursaries to practicing journalist so that they can study science.
Professor Luo’s thinking is that, if news reporters major in science, they would be very knowledgeable on the subject and their news coverage would improve. She feels Mass Communication and Journalism training is not sufficient for ethical news reporting.
“I think we need to get people in this country who are responsible for revolting through the media and especially social media to be exposed to some kind of ethics and responsibilities. This is one case but there are many other cases of misquoting. That is why I targeted science, because one of the times when they misquoted, it wasn’t Hot FM, it was a different media house,” said Prof Luo.
“I think it is important that people who are going to report on science are grounded so that they understand science. This is because science is not an easy subject. And since I am responsible for bursaries, those who will be interested in bursaries, I will ensure that they get a bursary so that they can report responsibly.”
Considering that it’s actually our taxpayers’ money which she would like to reinvest in us, we will not turn down the scholarship offer. But we would like to apologise to the learned minister in advance that a degree in science will not make us stop reporting the news that she doesn’t want to hear.
In fact, while we enroll for science, we would like Prof Luo to also enroll in journalism so that she can understand how news is judged, gathered and disseminated. Maybe that is the only way that she will be able to distinguish between news and public relations. She may then appreciate why we take pride in publishing what the public deserves to know, even if it unsettles her.
It would mean so much to us if the minister understood that no matter how educated we may be, as journalists, we are not expected to quote ourselves. We report news based on what we witness, what we hear and most importantly, what we are told. So even after graduating with science degrees, it will not be our job to start publishing arguments on scientific theories because there is a difference between a journalist and an author.
In our work, we hear a lot of rubbish being spoken by news sources. Some of what they say is so senseless that we laugh out loud in the process of writing the stories. But because these are our sources and leaders in charge of our country and society, we can’t replace their views with our own.
Just last week, the permanent secretary for Copperbelt Province, Mr Bright Nundwe, held a meeting with the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) leadership in which he asked the regulatory authority to ban all television and radio stations “that don’t cover President Edgar Lungu well”.
The Permanent Secretary put President Lungu as the yardstick for ethical journalism. To him, any other media house that doesn’t report fairly on the opposition leaders or the rest of the citizens must remain operational, as long as it gives his President good coverage.
That is the climax of Mr Nundwe’s wisdom and there is nothing we, as journalists, can do about it. Whether we have science degrees or not, we are mandated to report those views, senseless as they are, without adding or subtracting anything.
If Prof Luo was grounded in journalism, she would understand all that. And to be honest, we actually believe that the learned minister knows that already. But judging from her remarks in Parliament, she was using some flaws in journalism practice as her excuse for bragging about her own academic achievements.
We feel we can speak on behalf of all the practicing journalists in Zambia and admit that we are not perfect in our work. But considering that there is no human being (professor or not) that is perfect, we believe that we wouldn’t be asking for too much if we demand a little respect from the learned minister.
Of course we can’t blame her for exercising her bragging rights. In fact, anybody in her position should be proud of their academic success. We remember learning about Prof Nkandu Luo in primary school in the 90s, that she was Zambia’s first female professor. Her name used to be an answer to examination questions, so we had to memorise it.
But we are grown up now and we have acquired enough life lessons to understand that our beloved minister’s academic credentials are worthless if she intends to use them to demean the integrity of other less educated citizens of this country.
Prof Luo could be the most educated woman in Zambia, but she still needs another woman with no certificate at all to plait her hair or to put make up on her face if she thinks it can improve her outlook. The point is, we don’t all need science degrees.