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Sunday, 4 October 2009

Mutually Assured Destruction

Gershom Ndluvo has a wonderful piece on media ethics and current calls for regulation. This extract particularly caught my eye :

The Zambian media landscape is basically dichotomous between state-owned Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia and ZNBC which are seen as compliant to the dictates of government and the ruling MMD, and the private media largely represented by the Post. It may seem though that statutory regulation is aimed at the Post with its patently anti-establishment stance of always exposing wrong doing in government.
After reading, Keeble’s book, I have realised that government officials and the statutory regulation lobby, do not clearly state what it is that the so-called recalcitrant media do not conform to in terms of ethics in the manner they report and write news.

Is it the mere fact that newspapers such as the Post will publish what the state controlled media would not publish such as the abuse of state resources? Do the Post and other private media invade people’s privacy? Is reporting corruption or perceived corruption in and outside government wrong? What is the best way of reporting and writing news? These are some of the questions that need to be answered particularly by the statutory regulation lobby which should understand that journalists are not just thrown into the field without essential grounding in ethics during journalism training. The same ethics that journalists in public media learnt are the same ethics that private media journalists learnt during their training. It is the ownership and economic consideration that determine a media’s editorial direction.

Obviously, the Zambia Daily Mail, the Times of Zambia and ZNBC tend to echo the ruling MMD government’s line while the Post and other private media will tend to fill in the vacuum left by the government media and also for their need to maximise sells considering that they are not subsidised by the government.
A previous post advances similar arguments on why those calling for regulation appear to have missed the trick. My assessment was based on “efficiency” arguments rather than “ethics”. MECOZ (and the pro-regulation cheerleaders) have not correctly articulated the “market failures” they see in the current landscape. I went on to note that many of the problems they have observed are easily resolved by having a more competitive playing field where the Post does not have a de-facto monopoly of free press (its negative influences, if any, would therefore be neutralised). That is best served by selling the state owned media and introducing real competition.

Gershom’s observation advances that argument by noting an interesting fact. The Post has a crucial role in filling an important gap that currently exists. It is responding to demand for a different kind of news than the garbage that is usually dished out by the Daily and Times. In many ways government ownership of key newspapers has allowed the Post to define itself as a balancing force. Where else are we to read stories of government plunder? The more extreme and bizarre the Daily and Times become in their blind support of government (or should I use the word "state"?), the more extreme and anti-Government the Post appears to become. They are locked in this awkward and painful dance where neither side is unwilling to pull back. But it is also a game invented and fuelled by those unwilling to allow logic to prevail and prefer to treat state media as a personal toy. The continuous use of state media as a propaganda tool is endangering the safety and security our people. The latest example where donors accuse the Government in the Post, and the Government responds through the state media is one example among many. It is time to step back from this MAD position and learn to cultivate a positive image of Zambia.

1 comment:

  1. "Is it the mere fact that newspapers such as the Post will publish what the state controlled media would not publish such as the abuse of state resources?"- a quote from Gershom's article is a naked presumption of fact enough to convince me not to make a serious attempt to refute his views.


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