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Blalizo is killing Zambian journalism

There cannot be truth and objectivity where there’s blalizo.

Today to have media coverage of your event you have to at least pay journalists “refunds” for transport. If you don’t, you will be lucky to have a journalist reporting on your event.

Today journalists are for hire, rent. But if you have hired or you are renting a journalist what remains of their independence? Can they really act independently? Can they remain committed to truth? What happens to their objectivity?

Is editorial independence important? For us it is. Without it, we’re just creating churnalism.

Amos Malupenga, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary, says receiving of ‘blalizo’ by journalists is a very serious professional concern for him as a journalist.

Some of us worked with Amos at The Post and blalizo was not allowed or tolerated.

Probably we need to explain what blalizo is. Blalizo is money or other gratification paid to or received by a journalist in exchange for news coverage.

It has become common practice that journalists who go for news events are ‘appreciated’ with some money by the news source or a proxy.

“If you are pursuing the truth, there will be no need for self-censorship. Why should you censor yourself to say that which is correct? If it is correct, that’s what it is. [But] we are allowing ourselves as journalists to be used by some of the political players, rightly or wrongly. There is this thing which has emerged, blalizo. That’s the problem when you talk about self-censorship; it is connected to blalizo. The six or seven years I was away from the Ministry of Information [as permanent secretary], I was in other ministries or other places and I still continued interacting with journalists from different perspectives and this issue of blalizo is causing a lot of tension. If I don’t give them (journalists) the money, then they will either dilute my story or give me a blackout so that they send a message that next time ‘can you relax your fingers.’ The more I give, the more I get coverage. Is that professional? It’s happening,” says Amos.

Journalistic objectivity is a considerable notion within the discussion of journalistic professionalism. Journalistic objectivity may refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and non-partisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.

Objectivity in journalism aims to help the audience make up their own mind about a story, providing the facts alone and then letting audiences interpret those on their own. To maintain objectivity in journalism, journalists should present the facts whether or not they like or agree with those facts. Objective reporting is meant to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the writer’s opinion or personal beliefs, connections. Where journalists are hired or rented objectivity suffers, it is lost.

And when journalism stops pursuing truth, objectivity and fairness, it is as good as dead – it becomes worthless.

But condemnation of blalizo journalism is not enough. There’s need to look at its causes, what is generating it.

The poor financial state of the media has led to many very negative practices in the media. Ethical journalism has been dealt a deadly blow. And to this add the government’s curtailing of press freedom. The destruction of The Post by this government created a completely different media environment in Zambia whose consequences we are today witnessing.

We can rightly conclude that this Patriotic Front government has destroyed journalism and corrupted it in so many ways.

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