ANALYSIS: EMELDA MUSONDA
TRANSPORT refund, also referred to as ‘blalizo’, given to journalists covering events by organisers, has raised a lot of concern among stakeholders.
A number of veteran journalists have expressed disapproval at the trend which seems to be getting entrenched in journalism practice.
The corporate world, civil society organisations and members of the public who interact with journalists from time to time have lamented how they have been harassed for failure to provide transport refund.
Sadly from merely expecting and receiving ‘blalizo’, the situation has escalated to a point where journalists harass an event organiser who fails to provide ‘blalizo’ or provides less than anticipated.
Some journalists will protest by not producing a story from the event and in some instances issue threats never to attend such an event again.
As WAN-IFRA Women In News Steering Committee member, this author had first-hand experience of what event organisers go through. After a WIN meeting which the media was invited to cover, journalists swamped the project manager from Zimbabwe demanding lunch coupons and transport refunds. They refused to leave; they followed her wherever she went until she organised some funds outside the event budget. Even then the money ran out because the journalists were too many. As the host and a journalist, I was terribly embarrassed, to say the least.
Today we have some events over-attended by journalists while others are shunned completely because of transport refunds issues. The number of journalists at an event is a strong indicator that ‘blalizo’ is on offer.
Some organisations that offer ‘blalizo’, which they usually brand as logistics or transport refund, claim that it is meant to make work of journalists easy.
They claim that some journalists fail to cover events due to limitations of transport, which could be true to some extent.
However, the main reason an organisation will give transport refund is to influence the number of journalists attending their function and subsequently coverage.
Whatever reasons are advanced to justify giving, receiving and soliciting of ‘blalizo’, the truth is that it takes away from the credibility of the media.
It relegates journalist to beggars or street adults and dents the corporate image of the organisations they represent.
It is because of such trends that journalists are disrespected by some event organisers who treat them as second-class guests or gatecrashers.
In some events, journalists are made to stand while everyone is seated. In instances where meals are provided, they are called at the end after other guests have picked their share.
To a larger extent, journalists are to blame because they have invited this on themselves through unethical and degrading conduct or scrambling for food and blalizo.
When it comes to eating in these functions, you will know a journalist by the mountain of food on their plate and the number of drinks they grab at a goal.
Journalists have no business parading themselves for those ‘tuma’ K50 notes as transport refunds because the responsibility to provide logistics for covering events lies squarely on the shoulders of their employers.
In selecting what assignment or event to cover, journalists should not focus on who will provide transport refund but rather on where there is more news value.
In the current scenario, where journalists jostle for incentivised events, news values and professionalism are thrown through the window.
It is no wonder we have so many instances where public relations content is being postured as news in the media.
If journalists will all rush for events incentivised with ‘blalizo’, who will cover real news in the townships and rural areas where there is no such incentive?
The media organisations, unions and professional bodies should arise and put a stop to this degrading practice.
Media organisations should be the first to exhibit integrity by providing the necessary logistics for journalists to do their work in a more dignified manner. It is irresponsible for any media to send journalists on assignments without providing transport and other necessary tools.
Media organisations should develop clear policies and guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour by their journalists.
Zambia Daily Mail has over the recent years invested in work tools such as laptops, cameras, recorders and vehicles, among others, to ensure that journalists carry out their duties without any difficulties.
It is also a practice at Zambia Daily Mail that journalists going out for assignments are given priority in terms of payments.
Recently the company, through its Integrity Committee, developed a Gifts and Benefits Policy aimed at protecting the company’s reputation against unprofessional conduct that may arise from the influence of gifts and benefits given to, or received by, some employees internally and externally.
The policy is a guide for Zambia Daily Mail employees on the expected standards of behaviour when offered or when giving gifts or benefits during the course of their official duties or by virtue of their employment status.
The policy forbids employees from soliciting or receiving gifts for a job they are employed to do and subsequently remunerated for, or using the company name to obtain favours.
In others words, no Zambia Daily Mail journalist is permitted to receive or solicit for transport refund. The company provides transport for its journalists.
Zambia Daily Mail recognises the importance of professional and ethical conduct among journalists and other employees in maintaining a good corporate image and financial sustainability.
It is also worth noting that the transport refunds and incentives for covering events have attracted quacks into the industry. These are people masquerading as journalists when they are not. They move from one event to the other soliciting for transport refunds. This is how they get by in life.
It is therefore good that the media is in the process of coming up with a statutory self-regulatory body.
It is only hoped that when the regulatory system is put in place, bad practices that dent the journalism profession such as ‘blalizo’ and many others will be dealt with decisively.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor and Integrity Committee secretary
ANALYSIS: EMELDA MUSONDA