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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Collective Repentance

The Times of Zambia acknowledges its shameful behaviour in recent past :
It is no exaggeration to State that the public media, which is expected to act as public watchdogs so as to strengthen checks and balances, has often been mocked by critics as Government lapdogs because of its servile attitude.

In the recent past, the two State-owned dailies—the Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail-- became conduits of crude and grotesque propaganda emanating from the MMD and targeting the most popular opposition figure at the time, who triumphed in the presidential election. The litany of unethical and unprofessional practices that have been documented is long. Suffice it to say that the current ownership pattern of the public media has eroded professionalism and undermined the country’s democratic dispensation. This situation has to be reversed to restore credibility and lend credence to the whole concept of “public media.” If the concept of public media is to have real meaning, the ownership has to reflect the diversity of our country.

Political pluralism would be rendered a farce without a media freed from the encumbrances of State ownership, and enjoying unfettered freedom to check the politicians’propensity to abuse power. Once the envisaged reforms are implemented, we believe the public media would be better positioned to play its role in a democratic political set-up such as the one which obtains in Zambia. In the broadcasting sector, we strongly believe that the national broadcaster, ZNBC, should similarly be transformed into a public broadcaster along the same lines as the BBC in the United Kingdom. Government monopoly in the media sector is a carry-over from the old political order during single party rule. This is incompatible with the current democratic dispensation and, therefore, untenable.
It is refreshing to read such an honest examination. But more important is that the Times of Zambia recognises the intrinsic link between ownership and media independence. The current Government is to be commended for taking a bold step in this direction, though questions still remain on the details. In particular, there's need to avoid a piece meal approach to media reform. We need a White Paper on media policy that can be consulted on and then decisions should be made. In the mean time, its great to have our papers back! 

2 comments:

  1. I completely disagree that public sector ownership is the solution at all. The Sun is privately owned - by Rupert Murdoch.

    It isn't private ownership, it is the independence of state institutions that is the issue. Whether it is the civil service, the appointment of personnel by the President, etc.

    Merely having a newspaper in 'private hands' (whose hands, and what is their private agenda) only undermines Zambia's sovereignty if those hands are or are connected to transnational corporations.

    Look at what happened to CNN. They used to pride themselves in their reporting, back in the 1980s. Yes, some of them were locals (they were based in Atlanta, GA instead of New York), and there were some toxic narcissistic personalities around (Jonathan Mann, Ralph Begleiter, Jeanne Meserve, Jeanne Moos), but others did reporting.

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  2. Today, after they are competing with republican party operative Roger Ayles' GOP TV (also known as Fox News Channel), forget about actual reporting that has not gone through the corporate filter. Whether it is Christiane Amanpour's incompetent interview of President Mugabe (part 1 and part 2), or Erin Burnett's attack on Occupy Wall Street, commercialisation is the death of real news.

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