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Zambia needs more responsible journalism as it gets older

Martin Nkolomba
IN I994, the world witnessed one of the most brutal genocides in recent African history. It was effectively covered by the giant media of the West such as CNN and BBC.
People in Rwanda killed one another and some of the survivors of the ghastly bloodbath fled the country in heart-breaking circumstances. Corpses lay all over places they normally inhabited as communities.
This was caused by an ethnic war that lasted for about three months and local media had a hand in it. It is reported that at least a radio station urged one group of people to rise up against another, leaving around one million dead and about two million survivors lamentably homeless.
That happened and society regrets it did. It actually stands for a dark and odious chapter in the history of Africa and that of the whole world.
Many lessons have since been drawn from that unfortunate occurrence. Society has moved on and healing has been taking place thanks to the grace of God Almighty.
One of the lessons is that the media should be held in check constantly. Well, wait a minute before you crucify me for I have an explanation for that.
Looking at what has been going on in this country in relation to political office and media coverage. It is important that we remind each other of a few basics about the media and how the potentially and actually impact on society.
Since the media are so formidable, a latent or actual tool for both good and bad, and with the ability to make kings and break them, everyone takes serious interest in the way they conduct themselves.
Fundamentally, media operate within particular settings. They operate with normative and legal frameworks generally. Only in environments of anarchy do they operate with all the freedom in the world.
The media must be controlled because at the core of their existence is supposed to be that sacrosanct value known as the public interest.
Yes, like any other institution, they could be churning out culture for money. In others, they will inform, educate and entertain at a cost so that they survive market forces.
Like other businesses, the media are always to meet their targets in terms of revenue and growth generally, which is good as it adds to national economic growth.
But, unlike many other businesses, they deal in one of the most delicate products – information.
Almost everyone knows that the media deal in information since they interact with the means of communication on a daily basis, which is attributable to major scientific and technological breakthroughs.
The media should be controlled. In case what I am writing is misconstrued as being far-fetched, what I mean is simply that media in Zambia should be controlled and that control must be effective enough to ensure the well-being of the Zambian people, including that of those fishermen in and farmers in the country’s rural areas who rarely interact with the media as we know them in urban areas.
There are many reasons why that should happen but I will attempt to give a few major ones. By the way my primary concern right now is not so much who should control or regulate the media. That is a topic for another day.
However, what I am saying is that the media should be controlled by society. Yes, the reasons why they should be controlled should now be given.
The media should not be a law unto themselves because they can harm society. Although some people may not agree with me, it is true that the media given freedom more than is necessary can cause and actually promote moral decadence.
When this happens, it becomes a real challenge for some people to distinguish right from them since the media are more likely to be believed than not.
The media should also be controlled because they publish and air latent and actual subversive content that can actually destroy a whole community if unchecked.
At a personal level, they cause irreparable damage to people’s reputation, and we have seen this in Zambia time and time again. The media should be controlled against their excesses and affinity for excesses against the state, organisations and more importantly individuals.
They should be held in check so that they provide a platform for the erosion of the Zambian culture at whose core there is peace.
There is nowhere in the world where absolute press freedom exists. Of course, press freedom exists somewhere; in the abstract.
The point is that freedom of the press comes with societal and personal responsibility and that responsibility should not be sacrificed at the altar of profit or some other goal, which is a total reflection of Aristotle’s teachings on ethical conduct. For those who may care, Aristotle teaches such things as the common good and moderation.
The media are part of society and so like organisations, they must be good citizens, which could partly explain why they should always observe its norms and the law.
The causes our media champion will reflect the quality of their contribution to the socio-economic development of Zambia and Africa generally both in the short term and long term. It is important, therefore, for the media in this country to remember that they belong to Zambia and that they have a responsibility to uphold the country’s public interest.

The author is Zambia Daily Mail senior sub-editor