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Tragedy of working for government media

JOURNALISM, with all its exciting moments, is in most cases dragged in mud by people’s perceptions depending on which political divide they are on.
As the epitome of the fourth estate, the profession bears the brunt of political machinations anchored on media ownership.
The public and private media are goaded into a cold war bent on pleasing the sponsors.
Each entity is forced to take sides based on the political interests and influence of the owners.
But to all this, it is journalists in public media who suffer the consequences of ownership when there is a change of government.
Much as the private media colleagues may also suffer the same fate depending on the judgement of their employers, public perception has weighed heavily against journalists working for government institutions, namely Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia and Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS).
The ghost of elections and its attendant corollary to change of government have always haunted those working for public media, who are labelled partisan.
The irony of it all is that among the journalism fraternity there are those who play victim and always want to seek solace in the new government by labelling their colleagues as having belonged to the fallen ruling party.
This behaviour has become a cancer in the journalism fraternity to the extent that people are not free to express their opinions on an issue of political nature for fear of being labelled partisan.
The generational political curse on journalism in Zambia is destroying the ethos upon which the profession is founded.
We seek independence of the media but we destroy it with our very own hands by labelling each other as belonging to Patriotic Front (PF) or United Party for National Development (UPND).
We have allowed ourselves to go with public perception and destroy the sinews that should hold us together as members of the fourth estate.
We went to journalism schools as individuals seeking economic independence and to participate in providing information needed by the public and not to work for political parties.
Those who malign others as partisan should note that they are doing exactly the same things they are demonising others about.
What will it profit someone if he claims other journalists belong to a particular political party when he will suffer the same consequences when the party he seeks solace in loses power?
This cycle of political accusations should stop especially now that President Hakainde Hichilema has promised freedom of the press.
Innocent public media journalists have suffered by virtue of having found a job in state-owned institutions.
When United National Independence Party (UNIP) lost elections in 1991 to Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), some journalists were labelled to be UNIP and lost their jobs.
They suffered for the sins they never committed simply because they worked for a public media during UNIP time.
Some journalists of yesteryear died of depression after being relieved of their duties in national interest. Some committed suicide.
Equally, when (PF) won elections in 2011, a number of journalists in public media were relieved of their duties on grounds that they were working with MMD.
Some of them still have no jobs and are living below the poverty datum line, to borrow the tired economic jargon.
Many times politicians in the opposition are given the impression that journalists working for public media are their enemies and are bent on destroying their political careers in favour of the ruling party.
They carry this perception even when they come into government choosing to continue giving interviews to private media only on assumption that they will be misquoted by public media journalists.
There were ministers in the PF government who told some public media journalists that they did not believe in Zambia Daily Mail, for instance, because of the perception they had of the newspaper when they were in opposition.
So, it is a fallacy to draw a conclusion that every journalist who works for public media is a darling of the ruling elite.
If it were so, many of us would not have been struggling to build our own houses on salaries.
Just like everybody else, we watched videos on social media of PF political cadres during campaigns displaying huge sums of money.
It is regrettable that after the election of President Hichilema and UPND some people are already perpetrating the cycle of demonisation and categorisation of journalists as belonging to PF.
Granted, the State-owned media houses have a mandate to project government programmes but the work of journalists should not be misconstrued for partisanship.
The public will not see the good side of public media if within ourselves as journalists we judge each other on partisan lines other than professional lines.
We should stop the idea of inciting new governments with the hope of getting diplomatic service jobs but let our performances speak for us.
Those who differ with their superiors on professional lines in the media should not seek revenge through politics. Journalism is just what it is; if you can’t write properly, you should not rush to the political anthill and label other people as PF.
The PF secretary general, Davies Mwila, will soon retire to his farm without ever knowing that some of us existed in Zambia, let alone at Zambia Daily Mail.
There will be no sanity in journalism if scribes pander to the rogue elements of politics.
However, we are elated that the new government is speaking the language of freedom of the media.
We look forward to the freedom guaranteed by President Hichilema and hope his ministers will not goad journalists into media polarisation again by listening to those who label others as partisan.

The author is Sunday Mail editor.