We have been overwhelmed with the feedback from the recently-held public discussion forum, which we jointly hosted with Eden University, Chapter One Foundation and Prime TV. Some feedback has come in form of bitterness, as we are accused of being sponsored to spread misinformation around the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019.
While many citizens and organisations are commending our initiative, those in government and the ruling party, including the President and his Justice Minister, are not pleased. They have called us all sorts of names and labelled us enemies of progress. We are not surprised.
Since we started having a series of public discussion forums, some people have raised eyebrows, wondering what agenda lies beneath this initiative. Some have been openly frank to ask us about it and we have explained, but others have remained speculating. Today, we would like to explain to those (especially in government) who are undecided about whether or not they should attend and participate in any of our interactive events.
Let us start with a little history. When we started News Diggers!, we said although our voice was new, it was full of hope, determination and purpose. We promised to do our best in giving readers a reason for supporting us. We are humbled to say that the amount of support we have so far received from the public has boosted our confidence and made us believe even more in our capacity to make a difference at a national scale.
Our mission has been to help effect positive social change, influence public accountability and good governance through online digital investigative journalism. This is the only agenda we have. And that is what gave birth to our partnership with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). This is what united us with our local partners at Eden University, Chapter One Foundation and Prime TV. We are fighting the same cause.
Under this partnership, our joint mandate, among other activities, is to facilitate pubic discussion forums aimed at promoting democracy, good governance and accountability in Zambia. Like us, our partners believe that a responsible government needs numerous platforms to interact with the people that it is governing. Anyone who lives in Zambia today can agree with us that our government is far from perfect, especially in the face of shrinking democratic space, abuse of public resources and lost donor/investor confidence.
Noting public concerns around the lack of accountability in policy implementation and resource management within government institutions, the disregard for the separation of powers and the clampdown on private media, News Diggers! and OSISA have partnered to provide an extra platform for government to explain ‘misunderstood’ policies, assure taxpayers of accountability and inspire confidence in governance stakeholders, both local and international.
When we invite government leaders to any of the forums, our aim is not to embarrass them. In fact, we are more concerned about how we can protect them from any unwarranted malice that may arise, so that they can feel safe and continue to attend our interactive events. Our desire is to bring government closer to the people. We believe that is the most effective way in which Zambians can make informed decisions and government can listen to people’s concerns. Citizens need to meet those in government face-to-face, air their concerns and look at issues from each other’s perspective.
Surely, how else can one define patriotism if this is not it? We may be a private newspaper, but we love this country more than anything else. That is the reason why we continue to sacrifice our time and resources to provide this free service to both the government and the people.
It is this government that has told us that negative speculation about democracy, corruption and lack of accountability take a huge toll on the country’s image, which eventually devastates the economy. So, we hold these public discussion forums to seek answers, to hear the truth; we want correct information to be given to the public. We don’t want our currency to be trading at K15 to a dollar because of “negative sentiments on social media”. As a patriotic institution, we want government to face the people and give first-hand information.
We want to emphasise that we have no plans of ambushing or humiliating our government leaders in any way. This is their platform to explain government programmes and policies. It is also expected that government may have some challenges in implementing its activities; surely, there is no harm in asking participants at these forums for ideas. That is what it means to be a listening government. Unfortunately, if government leaders decide to shun this platform, it is only those outsiders who are suspicious about government activities who will come to escalate their speculation. That would not be right. So, we want our government to trust us on this agenda because, together with our partners OSISA, we mean well.