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MARGARET samulela.

A chat with the President

DURING this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations in honour of women, at the Lusaka Show grounds, President Lungu exhibited a profound desire to offer every woman an opportunity to interact over issues through equal access to the media.
His clear understanding of the operations of the newspaper showed a man who knows that the media is a vital tool for development communication once it is made an available resource for every individual.
In a cool, calm and collected manner, President Lungu listened intently as the presentation of the Daily Mail newspaper’s exhibition was made.
When the President arrived at the stand, which was actually the first to be visited, he was presented with the different publications of the Zambia Daily Mail, which comprise the Zambia Daily Mail and the Sunday Mail.
After being directed to the stand, the President lightened the tense moment with a casual greeting in Bemba to the presenters. ‘Mulishani bane, ehh, mulifwe bwino’ probably because he noticed how tense we were to be graced by his presence.
It broke the ice, because seriously, who wouldn’t be nervous?
The President then said something that showed his nose for news or interest in latest information.
Lying on the table were a number of copies, he extended a hand to pick a copy and quickly exclaimed, ‘ahh, I’ve read this one, where’s today’s copy’?
Believe me, when you’re a writer, or a journalist, nothing is more pleasing than to know someone reads your work.
He made it so much easier to interact with thereafter, because then we understood that here stood a man who appreciated our work and our passion as the fourth estate.
And so the presentation began! Well, not quite a presentation, more of an interaction, because Mr Lungu was a very active participant, interjecting and seeking clarification, clearly very interested.
The aim was to bring to light the different ways in which the Daily Mail covers issues pertaining to women, be it in politics, lifestyle, culture and women’s rights.
The President was made aware that the newspaper is the only one in the country that has pages dedicated to highlighting issues of gender. The gender desk has been published for the past 22 years, and has won numerous awards, the latest one being ‘The most gender-sensitive institution’ in 2015.
Of particular interest to showcase to the President and his Minister of Gender Prof Nkandu Luo was the gender page, solely dedicated to writing about timely topics on women’s issues.
The gender column, written by different editors, has broken news on gender-based violence, child marriage and education that has spearheaded debate at Government level and many times influencing law reforms.
This year, the Daily Mail’s gender desk is profiling female politicians to encourage other women aspiring for political or public office in line with the theme, ‘planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality”.
Impressed with the paper’s effort in terms of publication, the President asked a pertinent question:
What is your circulation like? In other words, are the people able to have access to this important medium of communication?
A very important question from someone who understands that information is only good when the intended receiver is able to get it and ideally respond to it.
It was easy to infer from his statement that he had in mind the power of the mass media for development and the need for such media to understand its role.
Expressing an eagerness to have more people read, he asked another question.
Okay, that’s good, so what is your projection, how would you like to see the circulation grow?
With the Zambian population standing at just over 12 million, more and more people will require to have access to daily news and a medium to express their views.
With all developmental works going on, it’s imperative that the media become a bridge, taking news to the people and bringing their views to the government.
Development journalism ensures that the grassroots own the tools and ideals for the development they want in their communities.
As the exhibition came to an end, the President still stressed the need to ensure all readers can, if not buy a copy, at least have access to a copy.
Another important issue brought out by the President was the reader’s ability to get old copies.
“Am I able to come through and read a copy if I missed it on the day of publication?” he asked.
The President was assured that the Daily Mail has a library system that has served as a place for literature review for many researchers writing works on different topics; filed copies dating back to 1964.
The library provides a reference point; it is not strange to find people from all walks of life, including school children, using it to source different kinds of material.
The company is currently in the process of developing a digital library that will ensure easy access to filed copies of the publication.
Without realising it, the President was being ushered to the next stand, but in that short time, I learnt Zambia has a President with the interest of people at heart.
A President who understands that the media can play a vital role in informing, educating and entertaining.
In those 5 minutes, I understood my role as a journalist even more clearly.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail sub-editor