IN justifying the excessive news coverage of the President on the national broadcaster, Vice-President Wina said it is mandatory that ZNBC covers President Edgar Lungu’s activities and visits during the campaign period because he still holds the position of Head of State despite the dissolution of Parliament. When Monze Central UPND member of parliament Jack Mwiimbu asked what measures the government was putting in place to ensure that ZNBC covered all players in the general election, the Vice-President said ZNBC was trying its best to give coverage to all the political players in the country.
INONGE Wina: “ZNBC is a public broadcaster and its role is to inform the general public. During elections usually ZNBC covers all the political players. Where it may be perceived that it is covering the ruling party more is when the President of the State is involved. The President even during elections is still a President of the Republic and wherever he goes it is mandatory that the public media covers his visits and activities. So that may seem as though ZNBC is concentrating on one person. The Head of State belongs to a political party and you cannot take that away from him. So as a result ZNBC will follow wherever he goes and will cover him because even at political rallies he may articulate some government policies that are not known to the general public. So, as far as we know, ZNBC has tried its best to give coverage to all the political players in the country.”
Madam Inonge Wina is addressing the wrong problem. People are complaining about unfair coverage from public media. No one is arguing that the President stays in office after dissolution of Parliament; no one is disputing the fact that ZNBC has the mandate to cover the sitting Head of State and consequently his campaign activities. But where is it written that the opposition must not be given a platform on the national broadcaster? Which law says ZNBC belongs to the party in power? When was the last time that the biggest opposition leader in the country was covered on ZNBC, explaining what he is promising to do for the country if elected President? These are the concerns that the people have.
What is sad about ZNBC and its mandate is that it is sponsored by the poor Zambian people. If it was an entity that is funded by rich people in government, no one would complain. But this is an institution that milks the taxpayers in order to fund its activities. The state of our national broadcaster is annoying to the people of Zambia because it is not serving the interest of the people of Zambia.
It is for this reason that ordinary people don’t watch ZNBC anymore because the institution is such a propaganda tool for the party in power. The situation is so bad that anyone can predict how the lineup of news is going to be in the next three months. People know that every time they tune in to watch the news, it will be all about the President, his wife, his daughter and Cabinet ministers. After that, the next item will be the ruling party secretary general and then Christians for Lungu. There is even a new one called “Eastern Province For Edgar Lungu and Development Foundation”, and this organisation gets a prime time slot on ZNBC, but not the biggest opposition party.
What kind of country are we? Surely, there has to be other things happening in the country away from Mr Lungu, his family and their chewing partners in government. ZNBC is so frustrating, and it is for this reason that people don’t enjoy watching it. If ZNBC was offering a pay-per-view service, only those in State House would be watching it. Those in government know this, and it is for this reason that they had to shut down Prime TV because the entire population had shifted to watching the private TV station.
The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and the state owned news agency, ZANIS, are required, by law to provide a service to all citizens of this country and this includes those who participate in politics. Both members of the ruling party and the opposition are tax payers who deserve coverage from state media.
As we head towards the 2021 general elections, there is need for media houses, especially those that are funded by taxpayers to provide equal coverage to all political players. It has become a norm in Zambia today that public media is a mouthpiece of government officials; it has become a norm that public media is for the party in power; it has become a norm that the opposition can only get coverage from private media. This is wrong.
As Zambia slides into the formal campaign period, we want to see the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation televising one-on-one interviews with presidential candidates. This is what creating a level playing field is. We want to see lead stories in the Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia talking about the opposition and what their leaders intend to do when they form government.