I agree with recent government statements that the level of online journalism in the country is very poor. In most cases there's no analysis and it is simply full of insults.
I also agree with what various members of the PF [e.g. Lusaka Province Youth Chairman] have said that there is need for respect to be shown to the Head of State. It is important that those that criticise the president do not damage the institution of the presidency in the process.
The question is what should be done about these challenges?
Banning websites has its own pros and cons. There are certainly many countries that block access to certain websites deemed to violate the law (e.g. child pornography, malicious websites).
The problem with taking that approach in Zambia is that the climate within which banning websites may be effected probably means that any steps in that direction would raise more questions than answers.
My point here is not to discuss individual cases. It is simply to note that the key solution is to focus on taking away demand from platforms exhibiting poor ethical standards.
We have to ask ourselves why online platforms with which on the surface appear intellectually bankrupt and ethically challenged, nevertheless carry a wide following.
The reason is that they fill a critical information void. People do not trust existing sources (e.g. The Post, state media). Online platforms [including various FB groups] now form a much needed alternative. It is purely a demand issue.
Therefore the answer towards a better online media is to move towards stronger privatisation and deregulation of the state media so that it is able to compete in a credible way with unregulated online platforms.
The market must always be the first recourse. Other solutions like those being contemplated / already in play [e.g. banning websites] become necessary if, and only if, competition fails to provide sufficient incentives to drive up standards.
The state media and the Post having lost all credibility, has left a dangerous vacuum that is being filled with anyone able to afford a website or has time to create a Facebook page.
There are thousands of websites / Facebook pages on Zambia online merely duplicating the same stories. And most of them repeating the same insults and championing agendas, without adding any value.
The key therefore is to increase media competition across the board. This demands more privatisation, deregulation and supporting emerging media (e.g. local radio stations).
In the end PF has to realise that the solution towards a better media landscape is in genuine competition among traditional media outlets. When people get used to good journalism they will easily reject poor journalism.
It may seem strange to PF, but the answer towards better journalism that helps PF and government is a less state controlled press. The seed must die before it bears much fruit.
Chola Mukanga | Economist
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