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Sunday, 19 July 2009

In Government's Palm

"As for me, I would be happy if the government controlled media also publish about me that I have stolen and not to hide"
Minister Tetamashimba confessing that indeed the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia are controlled by Government. Presumably Zambians are very comfortable with the fact that tax payers money is wasted on institutions that only serves the purposes of the ruling party. When are we as a people ever going wake up ? In these modern times there's absolutely no reason for Government ownership of newspapers, let alone one fully controlled by it.

A question to GRZ Journalists :

I really want to know from journalists at the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia (I know they read this blog, but probably not anymore after this). How do you sleep at night, knowing your whole careers are built on acting as spin for Government? Do you just see it simply as a job like any other? Is it lack of alternative employment which has helped you park your moral consciousness? Or have you convinced yourself that you are independent of government? Is it a sort of stockholm syndrome? What is it? I really want to know and I am mean in no way to sound disparaging. Its just that money is wasted on employing organisations such as yours and when I read garbage daily it gets to me a bit. I don't want my grandmother in Mwansabombwe paying taxes just to prop you up without end product.

Update :

I want to avoid confusion - for the avoidance of doubt, I don't think the issues I have raised above apply to the Post. I do not care about newspapers that are owned by the private sector. It is up to the market to deal with those issues through competition. Where market failures arise the Government can correct through legislation or other means e.g. laws on defamation, enacting independent complaints commissions, etc. So let us not make this discussion about The Post. My issue is specifically predicated on papers owned by tax payers. [Another reason might be the issue of the "fight against corruption" - see Corruption Wars - Part 3 (Corruption & The Press)]

15 comments:

  1. I think we need to look beyond the government controlled media and more so the control under RB's reign. We have seen it in the propanganda even in the developed-world government like when it comes to war where they would say something like 10000 soldiers of their enemy have died in a battle but the loss in their camp was just a remote controlled chinook even without having been physically present in the battlefields. Other types of reporting have come in terms of taking sides like on climate change. So only when you unravel the motivation in that sort of reporting can you narrow it down to the Zambian case. It is equally worth asking these questions to media institutions like the Post where you even have certainty that the motivation is selfish interest in the form of maintaining an airline at the expense statutory obligations.

    So, similarly we should ask as "I really want to know from journalists at the Post (I know they read this blog, but would probably pretend not to after this). How do you sleep at night, knowing your whole careers are built on acting as spin for Mr Membe? Do you just see it simply as a job like any other? Is it lack of alternative employment which has helped you park your moral consciousness? Or have you convinced yourself that you are independent of the Post? I really want to know and I am mean in no way to sound disparaging. Its just that government money money is indirectly wasted on organisations such as yours and when I read insults daily it gets to me a bit. I don't want my grandmother in Mwansabombwe paying taxes just to prop your boss' desire to run an airline business when those airport taxes should have been used to tar roads in their constituency.

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  2. Chisomo,

    I respectfully disagree.

    You don't seem to have fully understood my point.

    I don't care about the Post because it is PRIVATE. If you don't like the Post start you own paper, has always been my advice to people. I never thought the Post was adequate in many areas so I started this Blog. That is the correct response.

    I care only about the Times and Daily because they owned by TAXPAYERS. So no I don't think I want to say that Post journalists. I have spoken to them through ACTION by starting something that tries to improve on what the MARKET is offering.

    I repeat :

    "I really want to know and I mean in no way to sound disparaging. Its just that PUBLIC money is wasted on employing organisations such as yours and when I read garbage daily it gets to me a bit. I don't want my grandmother in Mwansabombwe paying taxes just to prop you up without end product..

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  3. Indeed, the occasional excerpt or reprint of Post editorial content that I see is sufficient to reveal that it has a clear bias, which makes it difficult if not impossible to determine the accuracy of its reporting without comparison to multiple sources and independent efforts at fact checking. The solution would seem to be more media in general, being evaluated by a wider audience (I think that to some degree this is already happening). That's just one reason why I think that there is a role to be played by publicly accessible non-commercial media institutions. The issues of independence from political control and provision of public spending are certainly important, and thorny, however if they can be overcome the results can be very positive.

    One of the best examples of this that comes to mind is CSPAN in the US media market, which while not taxpayer funded, is effectively publicly funded by every user of the cable or satellite communication system collectively and unavoidably through their service provider. They are notoriously neutral, providing uncensored coverage of government proceedings in their entirety and without any editorial comment by any member of their staff. This makes them an invaluable source both for other media and members of the public wishing to witness certain proceedings (such as congressional debates, committee hearings, and press conferences).

    By contrast, this is the sort of service that taxpayer funded (and at times also allegedly politically motivated), PBS is unable to provide due to the breadth of the constituency it seeks to serve and the variety of forms the service must take. In other words, the provision of programming on history, business, nature, science, children, culture and the arts requires that PBS make editorial decisions about which portions of government proceedings are relevant to the viewer and which are not, and that opens the door for allegations of bias. Thus it seems to me that the ability for neutrality depends largely on having a narrow, clearly defined mission that doesn't require editorial decisions.

    Government Ministries are a key primary source of information on almost every issue of importance to the general news audience, no matter who is reporting it. The inclusion of editorial content by government controlled media institutions is an interesting example of recursive magnification effects, where information filtered by government spokespersons for public dissemination via ZANIS is then in turn filtered by government spokespersons for public dissemination via government media houses. It would seem that the public resources might be better used to enable ZANIS to provide greater detail from primary sources so as to enable government to provide more information to retail media organizations.

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  4. Cho,
    I am with you. I would also like to see taxpayers money spent on public goods rather than on mouthpieces for what is basically an interest group. It is high time supporters or cadres of MMD, PF or UPND established their own newspapers to propagate their interests instead of syphoning from the public purse.

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  5. Cho, As correctly observed by Yakima, your biaseness towards the post is more that clear. I will not beat about the bush. First and foremost, it aught to be plain and clear that the primary motivation of the Private media is profit making. That in itself is sufficient ground to assert that truth and fair coverage will not be their defining reason for objective. The moto of the private media is definitely, 'what sells, is what is published'. Unless we choose to pretend not to see such obviouseness. A political biaseness is not difficult to see, even when denied great length and effort. Chisomo's point is well on target, staright to the point Mr. Frank or is it Mr cho.

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  6. Anonymous,

    I can only imagine you are new here, I wont waste my time point you to many posts where I have criticized the Post.

    Yakima,

    I agree the network effects of ZANIS makes a good case for public subsidies, although that does not necessary mean Government ownership.

    Frank,

    Quite! In many nations political parties have their newspapers. In the UK everyone knows the Telegraph is conservative, The Guardian is sympathetic to Labour. In the USA everyone knows FOX NEWS is Republican, NBC is democratic etc etc...

    Let them start newspaper and stop wasting our tax payers money on their propaganda. I have really had enough with the abuse of our resources.

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  7. I am with Cho on this one. It is very nauseating to read some of the stories in the Times and Daily Mail. The POST may not be perfect but at least they try and hold the Government of the day accountable. They were the first ones to call Chiluba a thief when the Government press were signing praises of the man. It is the POST that fought FTJ's third term bid and more recently they exposed the scandal at MOH and the hearses madness.

    The PANEL

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  8. Cho, may i remind you that none of your resources are abused by funding the government media. In fact, your resources are abused in the Iraq war and other underhanded british plots! FYI Daily Mail and Times of Zambia are no a programme to reduce government funding by 2010. After this, they'll still be government owned but self funded.

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  9. The Panel, I think you need to check your facts.

    1. Dipak Patel & Edith Nawakwi called Chiluba a thief and not the Post as you wrongfully claim. The Post was party to the legal proceedings because they published what Dipak & Edith said on their front page headline.

    2. The Oasis Forum fought FTJ & Sata's 3rd term bid and not the Post as you claim.

    3. MOH scandal was exposed by an irate girlfriend who reported Kapoko to the ACC. This news was distributed by ZANIS and appeared simultaneously in the Post, the Times, the Daily, the Guardian, the New Vision, the Monitor, the Mirror and the Weekly Angel.

    As for the hearses, people living in rural areas requested that government give them hearses to bury their dead in dignity. With the increase in HIV/AIDS related deaths, burials are carried out all day long in many areas and transport is costly. The government was merely satisfying the peoples demand like a good government should do.

    As for the price on the hearses, that is for ZNTB to clarify with their chosen supplier. It is ZTNB’s job to find out if the price quoted was similar to the price on the import documents and if not, they should seek an explanation. ZNTB has failed to execute its responsibility, hence the non-renewal of its CEO’s contract, and the Minister of Local Government has requested that the ACC look into this issue.

    In the interim, it is the Post who is defending Sylvia over the procurement of the hearses.

    Let’s discuss fact please!

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  10. FMD,
    1. Dipak and Nawaki may have been the first ones to call FTJ a thief but the story only grew legs when the POST published it and kept it on the front page. The government controlled papers were mute on this.

    2. Third term: Yes the Oasis forum was the body that galvanised the anti-third term movement BUT the POST provided them with an effective platform. Again the Govt papers were full of stories supporting FJT's bid.

    3. MOH scandal: I got my facts wrong on this one.

    4. Hearses: Do you honestly think spending $29000 or whatever price was paid for these vehicles was a sensible decision? I have argued that the money would have been better spent buying utility vehicles for health centres or more tractors (only 30 were purchased under the same deal) to collect rubbish. At the end of the day governments should worry about keeping their people healthy ahead of burying the dead.

    I have criticised the POST (http://panel-on-zed.blogspot.com/2008/09/has-post-lost-direction.html) in the past when they have gone over the top on some stories but they have done more good than bad for the country.


    The PANEL

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  11. Cho,

    Sorry I might have touched a sensitive area, seemingly with you. But I could not get what you meant when you said you disagreed with me. What was it which you did not agree with? May be I made a mistake because I compared between the Post and state-controled media based on the story linked to Mr Teta. May I find out whose standards you were comparing the state-owned media with - I took it for granted that it was the Post hence my way of commenting.

    Just a bit on your comment of having someone run his own paper when s/he has an issue with the Post. Well I do not think it has been a fair comment although you have made it often times.

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  12. Devil’s Advocate20 July 2009 at 14:22

    I find it hard to believe that anyone buying these papers thinks they are independent or doing anything other than spin for Government/MMD. Thus there is no deception, and I see no immoral behaviour to keep journalists up at night. Yes, they might compromise their journalistic integrity a little, but be gentle with them, Cho - beggars cannot be choosers; allow them to get their work experience before moving on to the Post or wherever, just as others have done in the past.

    OK, tax payers should not be subsidising bad newspapers. But if we view the Times and Daily Mail less as newspapers and more for what they are – mouth pieces for the Government – could they not be performing a useful information dissemination function? Is it not interesting to read the editorials in order to glimpse what the ruling party is thinking (no matter how much we disagree)? Don’t some of the mindless reproductions of speeches prompt debate among the citizenry? Perhaps describing it as a social good is going too far, but you get my point.

    Still, why two Government newspapers? That’s just madness!

    Also, ZNBC has not been mentioned. Don’t the same arguments apply?

    (Curiously, I trust the BBC over privately run news organisations precisely because it is publically owned and not bowed by the profit motive or some owner’s personal views – Rupert Murdoch!)

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  13. Devil’s Advocate20 July 2009 at 14:29

    And another thing:
    If the journalists at the Times and Daily Mail are part of the reason for the existence of this blog, then I think they all deserve a Mosi!

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  14. The Post sells hot stories. It does not care whether they are true or false. They just sell anything juicy. If Cho passes a comment tomorrow that RB had a stroke, they'll print it knowing full well that it’s not true! The title will read “Bwezani Strokes at State House Dinner” and they’ll sell all 30,000 copies in 1 hour. Their stories don’t have to be true. Someone must just be quoted saying something juicy. If they get questioned, they blame it on Cho for giving false information.

    Because of the above, the Post does not carry all the positive things going on in Zambia because these stories don’t sell papers. Only the Times & Daily tell the nation about all the other non selling stories like NCZ starts production, farmers produce bumper harvest, clinics equipped with new drugs and supplies, copper prices shoot up, etc...

    Therefore, there is a need for the two public papers to complement the six private papers that only carry selling stories.

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  15. Interesting discussion! I just want to clarify a couple of things as I think that I may have been quoted out of context by the anonymous post above. Just for starters, I don't think that the fact that Cho sometimes reprints excerpts from Post articles means that he shares their bias. Certainly sometimes it is because they echo a point of view he already holds, while in other instances it is to point out how far they are willing to stretch the evidence to vilify their opposition, and in still other instances it is simply because they have done some investigate journalism and have published something first which is later corroborated by independent sources and they deserve credit for getting there first. Again, the solution to private media bias is more private media, restrictions just make it worse.

    I personally think that public media which has editorial content as part of its mandate is always going to be controversial. Sometimes controversial things are important and good for a society, I leave democracy to sort that one out whenever possible. What is unreasonable to expect is that one can have state sponsored editorial media and not provoke controversy about conflicts of interest and bias as a result.

    On the other hand, I like editorial media (so do most people, that's why it sells and CSPAN's ratings are near zero). To be truly fair, I engage in editorial media frequently, and am doing so right now, just on a smaller scale. Opinion implies bias, that's built in to the terminology, and probably the biology as well. Government sources are predictably biased in favour of government decisions (otherwise they are not doing their jobs very well), therefore multiple layers of government input prior to the consumer level in communications is redundant. We are all nowhere without the investigative journalist. This is something that was pointed out in other context by FMD, but here in the world of text it can be difficult to recognize which arrangement of characters on the screen represents "Truth". For me the watchwords are, "Trust, but verify." I certainly hope that nobody out there has ever taken my written word and just run with their interpretation without ever consulting someone close to them. The only way this works is via "ubuntu" shared reality.

    Editorial media cannot be measured against a standard of "truth". Even strict reporting without journalism such as CSPAN is not truth in any human sense of the word, it is just unfiltered, neutral. Filtering is what human perception is all about, and democratic media markets are like anything else democratic: elites are disturbed when democracy like water seeks the level of mediocrity, probably because the only adequate long term solution is to raise the mean thereby reducing the relative position of existing elites. In other words, if you are upset by the quality of news people are willing to buy, the solution is to convince them that better news is available.

    For me, I am always interested in the next topic or point of view to be raised on ZE, but if all I had to go by were the Mail/Times/ZNBC, or even just an unfiltered ZANIS, I think honestly that I would lose interest and focus elsewhere. Not that I would stop caring, but there is SO MUCH media here, clamouring for attention every moment. Without this kind of modern interface and a consistently varied stream of inputs, I don't think that I would be able to spend as much time thinking about Zambia as I now do. My point is that the opinion has to be there, and best it come from places independent of government because in the long run, democratic governments change hands. In the US, Obama wins and NBC gets higher ratings than FOX. In Zambia they would probably have to fire most of the people who work at the Mail/Times/ZNBC in order to switch the bias from government to government.

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