Zambia’s polarised, unbalanced landscape

It’s true the media in Zambia is polarised.

Despite claiming to all claiming to be adhering to ethical standards of journalism, news media outlets in Zambia remain polarised and unbalanced in their political coverage and reportage.

The state owned and government controlled news media outlets, especially ZNBC Television and Radio, have become mouthpieces of the ruling Patriotic Front. When they give coverage to the opposition it is in a manner that is marginal, negative and ridiculing.

Even if they are called to opposition press conferences or briefings, they focus on the Patriotic Front’s reaction to what the opposition has said.

This has left the opposition without a voice. And in trying to balance things, most of the independent media has tended to give more positive coverage to the opposition and allowing the ruling party to be criticised.

The result of this is a polarised media landscape. And is made worse by the hostility of the Patriotic Front towards the independent and critical media. They don’t often welcome the independent media to their press briefings and other activities. Independent media journalists are often harassed and beaten by ruling party cadres. Some independent media news outlets are even denied coverage of State House activities.

This polarisation is worse during elections. Despite the legal obligation to be impartial in their coverage of electoral processes, the media in Zambia remains polarised and unbalanced, especially the state owned media.

And the Electoral Commission of Zambia doesn’t seem to be in a position to enforce the electoral media coverage regulations against the state owned media.

The main causer of this polarisation of the media is the Patriotic Front and its government. It’s their abuse of the state owned media that is the main cause of this polarisation and imbalance.

It’s the Patriotic Front’s treatment of the state owned media as its own, at the exclusion of all other stakeholders, that is causing this media polarisation and imbalance.

Dora Siliya, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, says the media in Zambia, both under private and public ownership, is currently so polarised such that there is an impression that “some media houses are in fact just extensions of political parties”. Truly, the state owned and government controlled Zambia Daily Mail, the Times of Zambia, ZNBC and Richard Sakala’s Daily Nation are “in fact just extensions of the” Patriotic Front.

“At [this] point, it is so polarised in terms of public and private media and in terms of supporters of the party in government and against government. This is the problem because an impression has been created that some media houses are, in fact, just extensions of political parties. Perception might not be a reality but it is an issue that has to be addressed,” says Dora.

It’s not a mere perception that the state owned media is under the control of the Patriotic Front and its direction.

It is the exclusion of the opposition from the state owned media that has made the Zambian media polarised and unbalanced. If the Patriotic Front can ease its control of the State owned media the polarisation of the Zambian media will also reduce.

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