Editor's Comment

Support a free press

AS ZAMBIAN journalists join the rest of their colleagues worldwide in celebrating World Press Freedom Day today, they should seize the opportunity to take stock of the violence that has for a long time been unleashed on them.
It is a pity that journalists have been on the receiving end in so far as violence against them is concerned.
Yet, journalists are not in competition with any political party.
As the country heads for the August 12 general elections, there is need for political parties to counsel their cadres to refrain from harassing journalists in the performance of their duties.
It is often said, and rightly so, that the press is the fourth estate.
But the press can only meaningfully play its role as the fourth estate if it is allowed to operate freely and independently.
The country has witnessed several ghastly incidents in which journalists have been innocent victims of violence at the hands of political party cadres.
Quite often, party cadres across the political divide vent their anger on innocent journalists for what they deem biased coverage. Oddly, both sides of the political divide sometimes make this claim. So who is being favoured?
What the cadres should realise is that the media is guided by ethics, which the various outlets abide by. Understand those ethics and then you will have a basis on which to complain if your contention is that a media outlet is abrogating its own ethos.
And when you believe you have a case against any media organisation, you don’t apply the law of the jungle to get justice. Follow the available channels available. These include the legal channel.
It ought to be known too that journalists are but just channels for communication. They are messengers; your messengers of information to the public. So why beat the messenger?
With the general elections around the corner, it is expected that there will be heightened expectations by the political players from the media.
Journalists are game to continue playing their role of informing the nation on what is happening across the country. They also know that there is likely to be a heightened risk on their operations, but they are resolved not to back away from their responsibilities.
They, however, also expect the political parties to reign over their overzealous cadres. Better still, the cadres should be availed for interviews as part of the information process.
We are glad that the police have pledged full protection of journalists. Through interaction with the police, the journalists have gotten the assurance that they will do their job unhindered.
This, though, should be a last resort. Journalists do not want to be escorted by the police wherever they go in search for news. They want to feel free to interact with any member of society without fear of being punched, slapped or kicked by some rowdy cadres.
In any case, the police cannot realistically be expected to be everywhere all the time. They too have their priority areas of operation. Where their interests and those of the journalists meet, it is well and good to be in the same space.
When that happens, journalists expect the police to allow them to do their work unhindered.  Gladly, the police acknowledge this.
It is, however, also the responsibility of the journalists to exercise their rights to gather and disseminate news and information responsibly. Although the word ‘responsibly’ may be interpreted differently, there is common ground on understanding it.
Lies, for instance, are not part of the journalism practice.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme, “Information as a public good”, is timely in this era.
Voters will be relying on journalists to report on the activities of various political parties and individual politicians who will be contesting the elections.
Voters will need to have access to reliable information – especially in an era of misinformation.
According to Reporters Without Borders, despite Africa being the most violent continent for journalists, several countries showed significant improvements in press freedom. Zambia stands out in guaranteeing press freedom.
All in all, all stakeholders should reflect on the importance of a free press.

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