Honourable Dora Siliya must be the happiest minister in Cabinet, having been given such a talkative Permanent Secretary like Mr Chanda Kasolo who is, no doubt, doing all the dirty work for her and the Ministry of Information.
And truth be told, we love Mr Kasolo because he is a very honest man. In fact, he is so brutally honest that sometimes we fear that he may soon get in trouble for saying the truth about the state of affairs in Zambia, vis-à-vis media freedom and the general political situation.
There are five very critical things that Mr Kasolo has pointed out in the past few days. We don’t see how any right thinking Zambian can disagree with the observations that this Permanent Secretary has made; and this is why we can’t thank President Lungu enough for exhuming him from Chipata and bringing him to the chief government spokesperson’s ministry. Finally, we have a government official who sees things as they are.
Without further ado, lets look at the five brutal truths that Mr Kasolo has unveiled about the state of governance and the media in Zambia.
ONE: “ZNBC needs to show a little bit of balance. This is something that we can achieve over time. It is difficult in our society because democracy does not come easy. We are a naturally dictatorial society and so to bring in this foreign system of democracy is a real challenge.”
Who can disagree with Mr Kasolo that we are living under a dictatorial society? He is on point.
TWO: “Journalists at ZNBC fear bringing opposition leaders to interviews because they fear that if they do so, the politicians in the ruling party will jump on them, that’s a fact, they fear for their jobs.”
This is exactly what Zambians have been saying, but those in government have been denying this simple fact. Who can disagree with this brutal truth from Mr Kasolo?
THREE: “As IBA we can’t go to ZNBC and say ‘come on, we are monitoring you and we don’t like what you said here and you are biased on this’ we can’t because they are not in the Act. That is a fact… in fact, IBA is absolutely toothless when it comes to ZNBC.
What more does anyone want to hear from an honest government official? IBA is an attack dog for private media, nothing less. And there is no simpler way of putting it than Mr Kasolo has done.
FOUR: “We need to make ZNBC a trusted news source, at the moment everyone is suspicious of their news, and they are looking at them saying ‘no these are biased’.”
Indeed there is no need for anyone to sugarcoat this fact, very few people watch ZNBC lately because of its misleading propaganda. Even ZNBC themselves watch private media because their news is boring.
FIVE: “We expected to see the church mother bodies to comment on the Lusaka Hustle show because it’s a morality issue, it’s a religious issue but they didn’t say anything! But on this Prime TV case, which is fairly a political issue, they have come out.”
Once again, frank Kasolo is very right. Like we pointed out in our previous opinion, the Prime TV case is not a legal issue and neither is it an ethical issue. Rather, it is a “political issue” and that “political issue” is a 2021 election agenda.
This is the highest degree of honesty that citizens will ever get from a government leader. Kasolo has been able to say out what other government leaders have been failing to admit. Of course there are areas where Mr Kasolo is offside, and we can’t blame him because, just like ZNBC employees, he also has to say certain unreasonable things in order to protect his job.
For example, Mr Kasolo says Zambia is the freest country in Africa where press freedom is concerned. The latest World Press Freedom Index puts Ghana at number one, followed by Namibia and South Africa. Zambia is not even in the top 20, it comes somewhere around number 30, even worse than Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania. So we don’t know if Mr Kasolo’s Google stopped working.
Then Mr Kasolo also says his ministry is not pushing Prime TV to start supporting the PF but they want the station to be fair and factual in its reporting.
He adds that: “We will regulate journalists because they have failed to regulate themselves. we need an association’ just like LAZ for the lawyers, just like CIMA, ACCA, etc. So, we have written a draft which will give guidelines as to who can be called a journalist? It will give guidelines to the minimum qualifications of a journalist.
Maybe before we talk about qualifications of a journalists; Zambians would like to know, what are the minimum qualifications for one to be appointed Permanent Secretary in this government? Is it a form five certificate? Is it a forged PhD from Oxford University?
We have said this several times that there is no human being who is born with a ‘mandatory’ Constitutional right to practice law, there is no one who is born with such a Constitutional right to practice medicine. But all the individuals serving in the named professions above are born with the Constitutional right to express themselves, without any qualification. No one should regulate any citizen’s freedom of expression, be it a lawyer or a doctor. If that lawyer or doctor defames or maligns another citizen while expressing their views, there are enough laws that protect such a victim of that malice or defamation.
Our point has been that this same freedom of expression is the bedrock of journalism. Unlike any other profession, press freedom thrives on freedom of expression. That does not mean that we are free to insult anyone we don’t like. Those who break the law must be prosecuted and punished if found wanting.
Our concern is that while the PF is waging a vigorous campaign against Prime TV on grounds that the media house has been televising malicious and defamatory materials against its leadership, none of them is dragging the station to court, instead they are rushing to IBA. Why is that so? Why isn’t anyone in PF suing Prime TV for defaming them? The answer is simple, this is not a legal issue. Like Mr Kosolo rightly pointed out, it’s a political issue. What is hurting them is that this station is propping up the opposition party.
If we may ask, and we need someone in the Patriotic Front to answer this question very honestly: For argument’s sake, let’s assume that it is true that Prime TV has entered into a partnership with UPND to become the opposition party’s media wing, what is wrong with that? If UPND has bought Prime TV, so what? Is it a crime for Prime TV to stop covering the PF and only cover UPND?
If Prime TV is expressing biased opinions on its programmes, the PF has two options. One, they can go to court and sue for damages like we stated; or two, they can open their own TV station and televise their own propaganda. After all, we all know which private TV stations they already own, why are they not satisfied with their propaganda on these TV stations which they have bought?