CATHERINE MUMBA, Lusaka
PARAMOUNT Chief Chitimukulu of the Bemba people in Northern Province is concerned with the manner in which the media covered the 2016 elections.
The traditional leader feels some sections of the media are doing more harm than good to the country by spreading false information.
“The media is becoming very dangerous because it is giving information which is only destroying the country. The danger is that people are just getting what they hear from the media and then act based on it. In fact the media is doing very badly,” he says.
The paramount chief says the most unfortunate part of this is that the country has few journalists who are objective and report facts as they are.
“The media is not building or helping to reconcile the nation, some sections of the media usually give false information in favour of the people they are leaning on. But these broadcasters and publishers should judge whether their reports are building the nation or not,” Chief Chitimukulu says.
The Chitimukulu was speaking when the Commission of Inquiry into Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence paid a courtesy call on him to receive his submission.
President Lungu appointed a Commission of Inquiry into Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence whose mandate is to inquire into the voting patterns in the general elections conducted from 2006 to 2016, and also the electoral violence that characterised last year’s polls.
The commission has also been mandated to find out how the media conducted itself during elections.
The commission is made up of Justice Munalula Lisimba (chairperson); Marvis Kasongo Chisanga (vice chairperson); Nzovwa Mwela Chomba (secretary) and Mike Mulabe (deputy secretary). Other members are Lastone Lupupa, Charles Kafunda, Lee Habasonda, Reuben Lifuka, Dr Mulenga Bwalya, Maureen Samulela Tresha, Professor Owen Sichone, Redson Nyanga, Flora Mooya, Senior Chief Ntambo and Wilfred Chilufya.
To this effect, the commission has been holding public hearings in provinces after which it is expected to come up with recommendations that should help to prevent the occurrence of violence in future elections and also ensure that the voting outcomes reflect the people’s free will.
During its second leg of public sittings in Northern, Luapula, Muchinga and Eastern provinces, the commission received a number of submissions suggesting that the media largely contributed to the violence experienced in last year’s general elections.
It heard that publication of fake news by some local media platforms contributes to political violence and divisions in the country.
Testifying before the commission in Kasama district in Northern Province was Stanslous Chisanga, 62, a development planning consultant who shares the Chitimukulu’s views.
Mr Chisanga goes on to suggest that the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) should be empowered by law to discipline individual publishers of fake news.
The IBA is responsible for regulating the broadcasting industry in Zambia by ensuring the promotion of a pluralistic and diverse broadcasting industry. Its functions include, among others, to grant, renew, suspend and cancel radio and television broadcast licences.
“The media did not play its role as expected; we had so much fake reports during elections which have continued spreading even now. The IBA should be given more teeth to even deal with social media publishers if sanity is to be restored in the media fraternity,” Mr Chisanga said.
He further suggested that broadcasters and publishers should be given individual practising licences like doctors to promote professionalism in the execution of their work.
“There is so much fake news being published without evidence, especially against the head of State. Let us stop this because most problems during elections emanate from that,” Mr Chisanga said.
He said the use of the media to assassinate people’s characters without any basis amounts to psychological violence and should not be allowed to continue.
Matero Catholic Diocese priest, also a member of the commission, Lastone Lupupa said the media should not set the tone for any political agenda because some of its sections are fuelling confusion in the country.
“There is a lot of fake news filled with hate speech being circulated, especially by the social media. People should be careful to know in whose interest a particular media is publishing information,” Fr Lupupa said.
Generally, the petitioners said the media in Zambia is polarised. Some people said the private media is largely biased to the opposition and others accused the public media of being pro-ruling party.
However, other people still submitted that the media conducted itself professionally during the 2016 polls.
Nevertheless, Zambia is said to be among few African countries that have liberalised the media industry, allowing for full participation of different players, the majority being private entrepreneurs.
The country has about 111 radio and 42 television stations currently licensed.
Being a democracy, Zambia needs a pluralised media industry that should provide checks and balances, disseminate information to the public and also help the people to make informed decisions on matters of public interest.
The Commission of Inquiry into Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence continues to receive submissions on the performance of the media and other such matters during elections.
It is expected to hold its final public sittings in Western, Southern, Central and some parts of Lusaka as the rest of the provinces have already been covered.
It will then submit a report and make recommendations on the way forward to President Lungu.