Analysis: LOUIS MWAPE
THE just-ended Zambia Public Relations Association (ZAPRA) annual general meeting and conference which was held in Livingstone brought together a cohort of over 153 professionals seeking to mark a new dawn in the narrative of their professional body.
From the glass half-full point of view, the event styled under the theme ‘Communication for development in the era of fake news’ demonstrated three major things. Firstly, it demonstrated that the association has grown and that it has remarkable capacity to stand on equal footing as other legislated professional bodies in the country and beyond.
Secondly, it was a tone setting event that shaped the vision and aspirations of its newly-elected Governing Council, especially that the event also turned out to be a broader push to have a seven-year-old professional body to be legislated into an Act of Parliament.
Thirdly, it demonstrated that fake news does not only affect political players but the national image, communication professionals, the communities, organisations and pretty much everyone else gets sullied by its effects, and hence that well-tailored theme for the occasion.
In so many ways, the conference epitomised the extent to which fake news was affecting the profession which prides itself on having talented expertise, whose niche is to manage public perception issues, build strong and long-lasting relationships with publics, packaging dissemination quality and accurate information to the masses and consequently to rebrand the entire national narrative, among other things.
Among the lead discussants at that event was presidential aid for press and public relations Amos Chanda, Zambia’s Ambassador to South Africa Emmanuel Mwamba, renowned communications and political analyst Dr John Kunda, Chartered Institute of Public Relations UK Chapter Board chairperson Jacqueline Purcell and motivational speaker and seasoned writer Reverend Walter Mwambazi.
That high-powered team of discussants alongside ZAPRA members did not only discuss issues of fake news but also submitted valid reasons as to why the ZAPRA Bill was urgent and important and why it should be transformed into an Act of Parliament. The conference actually triggered a real reform in the minds of many professionals that ZAPRA urgently needed that sort of recognition.
Speaking at the award ceremony and gala night to close off the event, Chief Government Spokesperson and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya reassured the association members that her ministry was more than ready to receive the bill and table it before Parliament for possible enactment.
That assurance caused immediate and resounding applause and it was indeed a flattering narrative for enterprising public relations and communications professionals in Zambia who, for some time now, have seemingly been struggling to find a way to step on that move to have their association enacted into law.
One could tell that in that moment, ZAPRA already envisioned turning itself into something big like Zambia Institute of Marketing (ZIM), Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and many other legislated professionals.
With the high-spirited Governing Council in place which has vowed to make that call for legislation a lynchpin reform for their just started tenure, there is no doubt that it will eventually manage to pull that one and be able to stand on equal footing. In fact, nothing at this point should take practitioners’ eyes off the prize.
And the incumbent ZAPRA president, Mwamba Siame, opined that the newly elected ZAPRA Governing Council is working round the clock to ensure that the bill is presented to the Ministry of Information within the shortest possible time. She gave a tentative timeline of March monthend for that to be done.
Meanwhile, it is only true that every professional institution needs recognition and credibility because it is incumbent upon it to promote the general advancement of its professions and related disciplines, and also promote ethical and responsible practice among professionals in line with the laws of the land.
For an organisation like ZAPRA, whose affiliation to the African Public Relations Associations (APRA) is held in high esteem, such a call for legislation becomes even a more urgent matter. This is because there are higher chances that legislation could raise the profile and stands for practice, and it could also thwart any form of unprofessional conduct and practice, among other things. Legislation will also boost up membership and capacity of the association.
If there is a point worth making here is that just like law, medicine, teaching or even journalism, PR and communications is a relevant profession that requires special recognition.
Even though there might be a few hiccups which could hijack the process and plunge it into real distractions, the yet-to-come win still boils down to the extent to which members and the Governing Council are going to play their cards. They are the protagonists in this whole process and indeed the master of their own fate.
On the other hand, the Chief Government Spokesperson is a loyal daughter of the profession who believes that ZAPRA should chart their own course, and that it was doing the right thing. Having such a wit influential figure in the team is always a plus and perhaps the association might as well want to leverage that.
She understands the relevance and challenges of that noble profession and having her in the forefront is just as good as having a cookie cutter that will make things play out to the association’s advantage. However, members should equally throw their weight into the process, and relentlessly tout the thought of legislation even to various stakeholders who can support their cause.
The author is a communications professional and a member of ZAPRA.
Analysis: LOUIS MWAPE