INFORMATION minister Dora Siliya says PF government officials are not fearful of palatable criticism.
And Mast newspaper editor-in-chief Larry Moonze says lack of advertising revenue makes the newspaper’s liquidity position difficult.
Speaking when she, in the company of her ministry’s director of press and media development Isaac Chipampe, toured The Mast head office in Lusaka’s Ibex Hill area yesterday, Siliya said her ministry was not for ZNBC, Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail but the entire media spectrum.
The minister started by congratulating the winners in Thursday’s by-elections in Bahati and Roan constituencies and other by-elections.
She explained that she was privy to numerous complaints from the media that many government officials, and in particular the political leadership, did not make themselves available to privately-owned media houses.
“I’ll continue to engage our colleagues in government that we are not there for ourselves but for the people of Zambia,” Siliya promised.
“We, in government, are not fearful of criticism. We can’t expect that we’ll get praise all the time. It’s just the manner and the type of criticism that must be palatable. If you tell somebody that we’ve done an investigation ‘this and that has failed’, it’s in our interest to say ‘how do we correct it?’ But if you refer to people as idiots, foolish, they will never get the advice. It’s okay for people to disagree.”
On the issue of Mast journalists not being invited to cover events at State House, the minister noted that the presidency was an institution and that “it is for all media.”
“We’ll engage [State House press aide Amos] Mr Chanda and get to the bottom of this matter. But we also have to accept and appreciate the background to all this; human beings are human beings. They will rub each other in one way or another,” she said. “But I believe that there are no problems that cannot be resolved and we as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting we’ll try and be the intermediaries and get to the bottom of this matter. This process is an issue of confidence-building….”
Siliya reminded the media to be concerned about the country they served and live in.
She stressed that journalists had a responsibility to be patriotic.
“That’s why even when we report differences, they must be measured. If politicians are miles apart, the media should try and encourage reduction of that gap. Not becoming the first ones to widen the gap even further and then tomorrow we say ‘we are not being invited to State House!’ Politicians are just human beings!” Siliya explained.
“Media houses are businesses and not political parties. You want advertising and if an impression is created that that media house is hot and government doesn’t want to deal with it, most private sector [entities] will respond that way. But today I want to believe that today is part of confidence building! Nobody is saying that you cannot criticise government.”
And Siliya emphasised that brutality against journalists should not be tolerated.
“Whether it’s by PF, UPND, FDD, MMD; abuse of journalists should not be tolerated. So, even the media, let us not just report when it’s a particular journalist that has been beaten,” advised Siliya.
Earlier, briefing the minister on The Mast’s operations, Moonze highlighted that from the birth of the newspaper in November 2016, “we had those difficulties where we are not allowed to sell; our paper was being grabbed from the street vendors.”
“Apparently, the same ugly thing is repeating itself – just on Wednesday our paper was grabbed, particularly in the city centre,” Moonze said.
“So, it seems, at times, when there is a story that is bashing the government, some people are not content and they would rather grab the papers. But we hope a meeting with the SG (PF secretary general Davies Mwila) can help to calm the nerves.”
He added that any newspaper, radio and TV station without advertising was difficult to run.
“It means the impact that we are going to have, in terms of liquidity, will be less. When you sell 7, 000 copies, you have withholding tax to pay and other expenses. For us, from our 7, 000 copies, we pay about K37,000 a month of withholding tax. With that circulation, just the two routes (Copperbelt and Southern Provinces) that we use, in terms of fuel, you’ll find that the cost is high. So, when we pay the withholding tax, I don’t have enough money to pay my workers on time,” Moonze explained.
“So, we have little [income from adverts]; it’s just from the American Embassy, Advantage Insurance and a few classifieds. [But] from the quasi or the government side, we literally have no advertising. So, we don’t know whether there is a specific policy from the government that they shouldn’t advertise with some of us or it’s just the issue of others not satisfied with…. It’s a preference issue; we don’t know.”
Moonze further indicated that much as The Mast wanted to reach out, in terms of coverage, to the presidency, it had a challenge.
“Anything that the President wants to communicate we are not invited. Most times when the President speaks, those are policy issues and he is trying to communicate to citizens,” he noted.
“As a newspaper, we owe it to the citizens to cover what the President says and we feel on account of income, a person who prefers to buy the Daily Nation, for instance will not have money to buy Daily Mail to see what the President said. The 7,000 people who buy the copies of The Mast, may not have another K10 to go and buy the Daily Mail.”
Moonze said The Mast was existing as an official media organisation and that “the presidency should find a way to meet us halfway [because] we need to publicise what the government is doing.”
“Whether we can have some differences on issues but we owe it to the citizens that the President’s speech has to be covered… [How others react to what the President says], that’s not a problem,” said Moonze.
“We send our reporters, they are harassed! So, it’s really difficult so much that others feel we are just anti-government. You cannot find the President’s story because we are not able to access it. It’s just a few times where you connect to the Internet because Smart Eagles (PF Facebook ‘news’ page) is streaming live.”
Meanwhile, Mast deputy editor-in-chief Speedwell Mupuchi told the minister that the newspaper was not doing mercenary work.
“Many ministers of government will not pick up a phone call once they’ve known that you are from The Mast. But we feel it shouldn’t be the case because they are not ministers for a particular segment of society. When we ask [for an interview], it’s not that we want to put them in a corner,” noted Mupuchi.
“We are actually not mercenaries; we are just doing our work. If we seek an answer on something that seems not to be right, we are not being reckless. Actually, the ideal situation is that we would want all the ministers, permanent secretaries, the directors do the right thing.”