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Monday, 21 October 2013

A Poverty of Journalism (The Post)

If you had any doubt that the Post newspaper has zero credibility this recent paragraph from one of their many editorials should erase any doubts :
"...Wynter was introduced to us by Michael himself. We were asked to assist Wynter in his work in any way we could. And we know how to respond positively and generously to men and women of goodwill, to those who are trying to do something good for our country and our people. When we take up a commitment, we honour it and give it everything that we have to ensure a successful outcome. We don't act out of convenience or out of opportunism. We believe in an honest policy and in loyalty to others...Our relationship with Wynter was and still is a product of Michael's request to us...And surely, should the Patriotic Front be decimated on account of our said friendship with Wynter? We leave this for the deep reflection and meditation of Mwamba, the leaders, cadres and members of the Patriotic Front..." 
The Post is a politically captured newspaper that now finds itself on life support and begging for mercy from other political players. And in it's desperation it now reveals the extent of its deep rooted relationship with the Patriotic Front. In an era where the media has become so politicised Zambians are now left wondering where they can turn to for objectivity.

This is a serious issue because the media dictates or directs governance outcomes, and by extension affects the scale of poverty. The media can affect the level of transparency and accountability in our society. If the press was free from political interference we would for example expect a high degree of information than a government controlled press.

The media also influences public opinion directly. People develop loyalties to certain media and what they are told they rarely filter out. As Joseph Goebbels the Propaganda Minister for Adolf Hilter's Nazi Germany is reported to have said "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it".

In a properly functioning society media coverage should reflect consumer preferences. In Zambia unfortunately media production is heavy influenced by political players. The Government does not only control the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia it is also in bed with the Post. As Mr M'membe reveals - they have a "relationship". So we have over 90% of printed media under the control of PF!

This is a serious issue because the Post through its collusion with the current political elite has become an agent of poverty. It no longer acts as restraint on the excesses of political players like PF. Rather it is competing against ordinary Zambians who want to make the PF more accountable. With Daily Mail and Times of Zambia already in the PF pocket the country has no serious journalism.

The solution to all these media problems is to privatise the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia so they can fully compete against the Post. At present the political capture of the “private media” and the corruption of the "public media” has created a dangerous cocktail. With the Daily Mail and the Times of Zambia having lost all credibility, it has allowed the Post to become an inefficient and dangerous political player in a pseudo independent media market.

So not only is competition poor across the printed press, but actually the "independent" niche itself is dominated by a single player who is now revealed to be effectively in the PF pocket. The key is therefore to increase media competition. People need to push for PF to sell the two public papers to compete and challenge the Post. It is easier to politically capture one newspaper than three!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once spoke of German literature at the height of Nazism in the following terms : "Do you know a work of literature written in the last, say, fifteen years that you think has any lasting value? I don't. It is partly idle chatter, partly propaganda, party self-pitying sentimentalism, but there is no insight, no ideas, no clarity, no substance and almost always the language is bad".

That I think describes the Zambian media very well, especially the Post, Daily Mail and Times of Zambia. I can't ever remember reading or hearing anything from them that has added value to our country. Even the well intended pieces are shoddy and lacking in meaningful quality. They have no incentive to do that because they are papers that exist merely to serve political interests! Zambia deserves better!

Chola Mukanga | Economist
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

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