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Giving equal political coverage not practical or feasible – Malupenga

INFORMATION and media permanent secretary Amos Malupenga says it will never be possible to have equal coverage of political parties.

Launching the voters’ voice post-election media monitoring report by MISA-Zambia yesterday, Malupenga said what should be pushed for was fair and not equal coverage because political parties had different stature.

He cited the August 12 general elections which had 16 political candidates.

“In reality we know we only had two political candidates so to insist on giving equal coverage is not practical or feasible,” he noted. “If today you have a headline in Times, Daily Mail or The Mast quoting HH of UPND then the next day all the presidential candidates must be given headlines, this is not practical because some sources issue juicy quotes while some might not even understand issues. So how do you put them on the same scale?”

Malupenga said this was not to say that other political parties would not be covered.

He said they would but not on the same level.

He also urged journalists to hide their political views on social media platforms from the public they serve.

Malupenga said journalists should be more responsible and neutral.

And Malupenga said the MISA undertaking was an important milestone in the growth of professional election reporting in Zambia and also provided an opportunity to assess the levels of professionalism at all levels of media from the point of view of the public.

“I am given to understand that this report, the final one in the series of four reports, captured electoral content from the pre-election to the post-election phase. It provides valuable findings on how key media outlets covered the 2021 election cycle (in particular the election and post-election phase) including what topics they covered, which political parties and other election stakeholders they covered,” he said.

Malupenga underscored the government’s commitment and unwavering resolve to press freedom.

“The Press Freedom I am talking about entails the freedom from illegitimate restrictions and includes the freedom to choose from a plurality of media and the freedom to express oneself publicly without political or other forms of interference. This is important considering the phenomenal growth of the Zambian media industry over the years. The country now has more than 140 radio stations and 40 television stations on air countrywide. We are confident that this growth will continue as we seek more community investment and involvement in growing the industry,” he said. “We are optimistic that, as we continue to implement the current Media Development Policy, we will together with yourselves as key stakeholders in the media industry, harness a professional, free, pluralistic and independent media. This is important if the media will take up their rightful place in the governance and development agenda of the country.”

Malupenga said it was ministry’s expectation and that of the public that an enabling environment for the growth of the sector, media content from all players in the sector continues being created that would foster constructive and inclusive dialogue and debate on key election issues of national interest.

He said the government was aware of the many challenges inhibiting the growth of the media industry in the country such as inadequate regulation, lack of a level economic playing field and transparency of ownership.

Malupenga said these challenges had further been compounded by issues such as non-utilisation of the media as a platform for democratic discourse, inadequate skills among media practitioners and lack of media development-related infrastructure.

“Not all hope is lost because the media development policy is aimed at addressing the above challenges. The policy also aims at promoting a system of regulation conducive for freedom of expression and professional capacity building. Further, the policy will ensure that the basic right to receive and impart information, as stipulated in the Constitution, is enhanced,” he said. “Government notes with interest some of the key findings of the report we are launching today such as lack of balance in the coverage of the major political actors in election stories particularly across the public media platforms. It is important that all media houses including the public media provide equal coverage to all political players regardless of affiliation. This is the surest way to grow our democracy as a country.”

He said political will in this regard had been provided by President Hakainde Hichilema who had continued to advocate a professional, independent and free media.

“This, therefore, entails that the public media should feel comfortable to fully implement their editorial policies without any undue influence. From the finding in the report, there is need to invest more in ensuring the promotion of an agenda setting media. We need radical change in the way journalists cover elections in Zambia,” he said. “This is the only way to fulfill our role of ensuring that the public is well informed and in turn make informed decisions on issues that affect their livelihoods. Professional and ethical journalism must be an ongoing effort, even when elections are over. I, therefore, urge every journalist in Zambia to adhere to the ethos of fair coverage and amplifying the voices of the marginalised in society. Let us always remember that our primary duty or responsibility as journalists is to the public. Therefore, let us go back and respond to that ability.”

He commended the media for covering the 2021 general elections to a larger extent, with vigour, fairness, and consistency.

“We are particularly happy that you remained professional in your reporting, even in the face of rumours and speculation on social media. We also commend you for promoting peace before, during and after the elections. Yours indeed is a noble cause,” said Malupenga.

And MISA Zambia national director Austin Kayanda said in the first, second and third election monitoring reports, MISA saw how most of the media houses gave more coverage to the ruling party at the expense of other political actors.

“We also noted a worrying trend of very limited citizen voices across most media platforms. We heard very little debates in the media around themes such as poverty, education, women and youth participation, and other health issues. Instead these national issues were over shadowed by themes of electoral violence, personal attacks and tribalism,” said Kayanda.

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