INFORMATION minister Dora Siliya says journalists, whether from private or public media, should work hard and defuse public perception that they are mentally fraught with lunch and transport refund, when they go out for newsgathering. Speaking during a media meeting at Hotel InterContinental in Lusaka yesterday, Siliya, a journalist herself, said journalists ought to take themselves and their career seriously, otherwise nobody else would do so.
The media meeting was themed the future of journalism – how should we safeguard the profession?
“Does the public appreciate that there are minimum standards? Or is it like what I saw going on on the blog that it is about ‘who is paying for the lunch and when we meet as journalists it’s always about who is going to refund me the transport costs?’ We have to defuse that perception about our craft, as far as the public is concerned,” Siliya advised.
“It won’t be done by anybody else except ourselves! We have to take ourselves seriously [because] nobody is going to take us seriously, unless we do.”
Siliya regretted that journalism seemed to have been polarised by politics, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and other institutions that “support us.”
“We have to ask why have we been so terrified of self-regulating ourselves? What has been terrifying us? So, we thought that as we get into 2019, we have to begin this discussion and begin it on the basis of only being journalists, not because one works for this or that institution,” she noted.
Siliya reminded the audience that journalism was a decent profession that they needed to salvage.
“We are the ones who decided that we wanted [for] this profession and we should lead in safeguarding it because everybody else will come and go. But we are still here!” Siliya said.
“For those that are coming behind us are looking and saying…. In many families if you say you want to be a journalist, they will be like it’s because you have failed to be everything else. So, this is the last resort! That’s how it’s perceived. We have to change this because journalism is a decent craft. We must show that this is a very fulfilling career.”
Siliya added that she was aware that some people had been arguing that the future of journalism in Zambia, or even world over, was quite bleak.
“Others have been arguing that in fact this is not even a profession…. We do know that to be a journalist we expect that one will have such a command of the language, that one has the passion and an intuition for the story and that one will be fair and balanced in telling that story…. But are we the only ones with those skills?” Siliya asked.
“We in journalism seem to be quite challenged and it is not about whether one is in a private or government institution. [But] it’s really about the craft! Is this craft worthy and does it need protection in our country? How are we going to separate ourselves from those who are masquerading to be journalists? I know that attempts have been made to discuss this in the past; very polarised discussions on whether one works for the government or private media! But at the end of the day we are saying let’s just have a discussion that’s just about the craft because that’s what needs to be saved, that’s what needs to gain the respect of the public. Where we work becomes irrelevant….”
Siliya added that the public had become more educated and that they deserve better journalistic analysis of information.
“They expect better language because the public has become more educated. So, the way we train [journalists] has to change. We cannot be the fourth estate if we cannot set high standards that the public can believe.”
Meanwhile, Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Eddie Mwitwa advised the media fraternity that as it considered its regulation, it must be alive to the unique characteristics of journalism.