Covering political parties equally

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

He says what should be pushed for is fair and not equal coverage because political parties have different stature.

“In reality, we know we only had two political candidates, so to insist on giving equal coverage is not practical or feasible,” says Malupenga. “If today you have a headline in Times, Daily Mail or The Mast quoting HH [Hakainde Hichilema] 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?”

Amos is raising an interesting issue.

While this may sound insulting to some politicians, it is true that political parties in Zambia are not on the same scale. No matter how much some may overate themselves, they definitely are budding political parties. We nevertheless are not saying that they should not be covered, that their statements, declarations must never be used as headline stories.

Like Amos is arguing, what is crucial – be it during elections or ordinary times – is that the media must strive always for fair coverage of all stakeholders. It is political parties, civil society organisations, ordinary citizens, corporate entities, the Church, and other stakeholders who are newsmakers and not the news media. Equally it must be understood that space in the news media is provide on account of issues/subject. What people might consider a small political party can raise a significant national issue that requires amplified coverage. That’s how it works.

Indeed, it’s almost not feasible to give equal coverage to all political parties during an election. And we saw it during the August 12 presidential and general elections. No matter how much we tried, not every presidential candidate out of the 16 provided good enough material to justify a main headline in the newspaper! This is not to say they are not newsmakers. But we must state here too that the PF regime made it practically impossible for all the opposition presidential candidates to mobilise and canvass for votes. How then were they supposed to be covered? How was equal or fair coverage going to be achieved? For even space on public media was a preserve of the PF. PF monopolised public media and got even the lion’s share of online platforms including advertisement.

But it is crucial for the media to be impartial in coverage – very critical – at all times.

Although our Constitution provides for freedom of expression, common sense demands that we face reality. Indeed, competition in the just-ended elections tilted heavily – primarily – between the PF and the UPND. And this scenario was confirmed by the outcome of the elections results.

But this won’t be the case going forward. Others will occupy, for instance, the position the PF held prior to the elections. Just as another political party will have to occupy the position vacated by the UPND in the opposition ranks. Equally, other parties that contested the polls may become serious forces going forward. And this is how the world goes – it always evolves with mixed fortunes.

As the Electoral Knowledge Network observes, “

The media are essential to democracy, and a democratic election is impossible without media. A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices. Furthermore, media acts as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections, safeguarding the transparency of the process. Indeed, a democratic election with no media freedom, or stifled media freedom, would be a contradiction. In order to fulfill their roles, the media need to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage. Regulatory frameworks can help ensure high standards. Laws and regulation should guarantee fundamental freedoms essential to democracy, including freedom of information and expression, as well as participation. Meanwhile, provisions such as requiring government media, funded out of public money, to give fair coverage and equitable access to opposition parties, help ensure appropriate media behaviour during elections. The media have traditionally been understood to refer to the printed press as well as radio and television broadcasters. In recent years however, the definition has become broader, encompassing new media including online journalism, and social media. Citizen journalism is widely gaining traction, including in countries where traditional media is either controlled or strictly regulated.”

Among the wise saying about reality in life is this, “In an internet age of carefully crafted images, authenticity seems a thing of the past. There’s no substitute for being real with others or yourself. Being your authentic self can make you happier, build confidence and best of all, save you the trouble of constantly putting on an act.”

And Bruce Lee adds that, “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

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