WORLD Press Freedom Day Organising Committee chairperson Enock Ngoma has observed that there is open discord between the public and the private media, which has now reached a very dangerous extent.
And Ngoma has wondered why today’s public media cannot be as professional as it was under the one party participatory democracy.
Ngoma, a former Times of Zambia journalist and now serving as Media Liaison Committee (MLC) chairperson, observed when he featured on Diamond TV’s Night Live programme on Monday that the private and public media was disunited.
He also noted that the existing dissonance between the private and public media could potentially be a distortion in news dissemination.
“The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day cannot come at a better time than now when our media is facing so many challenges. We are facing so many challenges in terms of polarisation, [poor] remuneration for media personnel and challenges such as violence against the media by political party cadres. As the media, we are mainly to blame [because] we are not organised! We are operating in isolation. When we were young reporters those days in 1989, 1990, 1991 and so on, we were operating together, whether one is from the public or private media. We were properly organised but nowadays, you find this situation where the media is more or less disintegrated. As a result of that (disintegration), other people take advantage of that to start making us look like we are not working as a media team,” Ngoma said ahead of World Press Freedom Day which falls today.
“What is bringing about all this [disunity in the media] is the manner in which we cover individuals. For example, the public media always endeavour to cover the ruling party – the ministers, the Head of State, the permanent secretaries, DCs (district commissioners) and so on and so forth. Any dissenting view from the opposition or civil society, they (public media) tend not to cover. Then you find also some sectors of the private media who only cover the opposition, civil society, non-governmental organisations and not people in the ruling party. As a result of that, you find that there is this seemingly open division between the public and the private media which has now gone to a very dangerous extent such that I don’t even know where it is going.”
Ngoma added that the public could not manage to be fed with one-sided ‘news’ by either the private or public media.
“The major impact (of the division) is that we are not giving the right information to the public. The public needs correct information at all times [because] they make decisions based on what the media is giving them. But if one group of the media is [only] covering the ruling party and another group of the media is only covering the opposition, then I think we are going to mislead this country. What we need to do is to balance stories at all times,” he explained.
And Ngoma stressed that the public media was not a preserve of the State.
“The public media, as the title says ‘public’, means [it] is for the public. But you find that the public media is used more by the State rather than the public. If we stick to our ethics, we can avoid to be used by anyone; we can avoid all this polarisation we are talking about if we remain professional in our doings everyday. We were reporters some of us in the UNIP era, under the one party participatory democracy, but in that one party participatory democracy, we saw a vibrant [public] media in Zambia where we could write stories even critical of the government. If a minister had done something wrong, we could expose in the newspapers and in the electronic media, which are owned by the State. We were doing that but why can’t we do that now?” wondered Ngoma.
“The laws that are governing the operations of the media in Zambia currently are archaic; they were inherited from the colonial days. The first step is to bring in place laws that are going to ensure that the media is operating in an environment that is good. We need, for example, the access to information bill.”
Today’s World Press Freedom Day is being commemorated under the theme “critical minds for critic times-media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”