INFORMATION permanent secretary Amos Malupenga has implored journalists to raise the bar of their professional conduct high.
Officiating at the State of the media report launch for the first quarter of this year at Lusaka’s Radisson Blu Hotel, Malupenga bemoaned the falling standards of journalism in the country.
Citing one programme on a Lusaka based private television station where they featured a person widely believed to be mentally unsound, Malupenga questioned the professional and moral judgment behind that.
The launch was organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Zambia Chapter, and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a German media freedom and good governance advocacy non-governmental organisation.
‘’The point I’m making is that we need to raise the bar. We are dropping every day, sinking deep into the ground; we don’t want to appreciate it. Unfortunately, even those who are endeavouring to do the best, the bad things being done by others are overshadowing them,” he said on Friday. “So, we also have certain things to say because we know that our role as a media is to inform, to educate and to entertain. But we are misinforming, we are not educating, and if that is what can fall in the realm of entertainment, I’m not sure. And even those we are going to interview I, don’t want to judge. I may not be a medical professor, but I want to say something that borders on…you know, we can use our moral judgment.’’
He said whether in government or private, journalists should have the same interests.
“So, there are a number of things we can look at as professionals. And all of us are journalists, we all have the same interests. I may be on the government side today, but that does not make me less of a journalist or a professional. I have a number of years of experience,” Malupenga added.
On violence against journalists, he warned that the situation would continue just like murder cases have continued despite the offence attracting a death sentence.
He however said a lot of remedial measures had been taken and would continue to be taken to reduce the vice.
‘’The issues of violence against journalists, again our view is that we are overplaying it. We have seen the commitment. But let’s not be under the illusion that we’ll bring this ugly activity by those who are against us to zero. That’s why we continue fighting,” he said. “And I gave the example of murder, that the punishment for murder is death. But do we hear that murder cases have come to zero? Do we hear cases of violence against journalists on a daily basis? No. There are isolated cases; they happen once in a while. But that is not to say they should happen once in a while, what we want is zero. But reality as it is, is that this is a scourge that we have to continually fight.”
Malupenga reminded the media that just like power, freedom should also be contested.
“We have to continue fighting. Freedom, just as power, is always contested. We have to continually fight. But we are painting the situation very gloomy, so dark. And yet a lot of efforts have been made. And we can see that because of those efforts, a number of our cases which could have taken place have now gone down,” said Malupenga. “Deterrent measures are actively in place. So, let’s also recognise what we have achieved. We’ve got people even from the ruling party who have been prosecuted and sent to prison. That’s a message to show that regardless of where you are coming from, if you are found wanting, the law will take its course. But to expect that there will be zero cases, I think that is expecting too much because any other case we know what happens. So, our issue will not be the only one: assault, murder, these or any other crimes they happen on a daily basis. We’ll continue fighting; and so far we think that we are doing a good job at it.’’
And FES resident representative Fritz Kopsieker called for a stronger and united voice from the media against violence.
“If we look at the infringements and if we look at the problems the media are facing in this country, we can point fingers anywhere. But, in my own perception, I also think that the media itself can do a bit better. I’m not perceiving a strong unified voice of the media in this country to stand up,” said Kopsieker.
“I very much appreciate MISA’s voice, but I think the media fraternity in this country goes beyond MISA. And my organisation is obviously ready to assist that the voice of the media can be more united and can be more audible. And I would like to remind all of us that in a democracy, any power is borrowed power. It is power given by the electorate to a leadership. And as such, the electorate, the voters must be empowered to have information, must be empowered to make those choices.”
Meanwhile, MISA Zambia chairperson Hellen Mwale called on government to enact the access to information bill into law.
In a speech read for her by MISA national director Austin Kayanda, Mwale also expressed fear about the recently enacted Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes law.
“The ATI bill has stalled since it was first mooted in 2002 with several pronouncements made by different regimes but all in vain. The law on access to information is critical for the enhancement of transparency, accountability and the role of the media, all of which are essential in a liberal democracy. Therefore, we feel such a law should help alleviate vices such as corruption which thrive in the environment of secrecy,” said Mwale.
“It is interesting to note that government enacted hastily and went ahead and enacted the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes [bill] into law. Inasmuch as the law comes with its advantages, we note that some of the clauses have the potential to suppress citizens’ freedom of expression, freedom of assembly online, and access to information.”