CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
THERE is no dispute about it. Journalism is under siege in Zambia.
The ‘quacks’ are everywhere. All one needs is a computer or smart phone, internet connection and a little money to start carrying themselves around as a ‘journalist’.
It is of course, a growing global nuisance but hapless Zambian media consumers seem to be receiving an overdose of the bile.
Social media has become the bane of the noble practice of journalism.
But the industry is not just watching the imposters with folded arms as they continue to drag its image into odium.
The Zambia Institute of Mass Communication Education Trust (ZAMCOM) is leading the fight against quackery to reclaim its noble status.
The institution has developed a crash training course for untrained serving journalists and non-journalists who have a passion for the practice and want to use public space to share information.
On April 6, 2018, ZAMCOM held a stakeholders meeting at its lodge in Lusaka to validate the course.
The meeting brought together media owners and managers, journalists, bloggers, media unions, professional associations and media trainers.
ZAMCOM executive director Oliver Kanene said the main aim of the journalism foundation and ethics course is to set standards by which journalists can protect their profession and be distinguished from private bloggers and citizen journalists who have their own space in which to operate.
“ZAMCOM is encouraged by the new Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Ms Dora Siliya’s concerns and recent remarks on the need for the media to begin to protect its professional image by setting standards of entry into the profession,” Mr Kanene said.
He said the validation meeting was aimed at discussing and agreeing on the proposed content, management, certification of the course and its role in Zambia’s media development agenda.
It was also aimed at re-igniting the need for developing a mechanism for both traditional and online self-regulation.
“We want it to be a practical course. We want you the journalists to be the lecturers because you understand what is obtaining on the ground. The main problem the media has now is how to control entry, and we hope this course and certificate will help set minimum standards for entrants,” Mr Kanene said.
The veteran media trainer observed that while a number of journalists have taken to blogging, majority of bloggers are people who have no understanding of the basic values and principles of journalism such as accuracy, fairness, accountability and ethics.
He said social media writers do not mind the fact that the slew of unprocessed and unverified information they are disseminating on social media has the potential to harm innocent people.
During the sometimes ‘heated meeting’ private bloggers and ‘citizen journalists’ were particularly singled out as the main culprits in tarnishing the name of journalism.
The Bloggers of Zambia tried to defend its members saying they are simply exercising their freedom of speech and expression, and invited journalists to take an interest in blogging so that they, too, could move with the times.
Co-founder Richard Mulonga said the bloggers are ahead of the traditional media because they communicate in real time, and they are threatening its existence because of its reluctance to embrace new technology.
“We should move with the times. We the bloggers are ahead of you the traditional media. That is why you are not selling. We conduct free training. Take an interest in blogging, otherwise, you will be out of business,” he warned.
But the journalists and media representatives present did not agree with him.
Sunday Times of Zambia editor Austin Kaluba said although bloggers and citizen journalists have their own space in the communication industry, they should not confuse their crude work with journalism.
“We are not saying that bloggers and citizen journalists should not be there. They have their own space. But we want to draw a clear line between them and ourselves [journalists]. We want to set standards to distinguish ourselves from them,” Mr Kaluba said.
“There is a lot of quackery in journalism, and the time to draw a clear line between them and ourselves is now.”
The initiative by ZAMCOM has elated Government, which has decried the ‘invasion’ of the noble practice by people who are tarnishing its image through social media.
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services acting Permanent Secretary Isaac Chipampe said there is an urgent need for journalists to set standards by which to protect their profession from bloggers and other untrained mass communicators who have no respect for ethics.
Mr Chipampe said the emergence of social media and online publications has turned traditional media into an endangered species as people are unable to tell which is which.
“Government agrees with ZAMCOM’s conceptualising of a course in journalism foundation and ethics training. There is need for journalists to set standards by which to protect their profession and distinguish themselves from bloggers and the so-called citizen journalists, who have their own space in which to operate,” he said.
Mr C h i p a m p e s a i d communication has evolved in recent years to a point where traditional media has suddenly become an endangered species, with people using mobile phones and other gadgets not only to access information but also to send information to millions of other people at little cost and in real time.
“And therein lies the danger of misinformation, libel and at a larger scale the danger to the well-being of not only individuals but societies as well,” he said.
Mr Chipampe said while all this is happening, unfortunately, citizens are unable to distinguish between journalists and people who are active on social media, which has blemished journalism.
He also observed that most community and commercial radio stations have been employing people who have not received any formal training, thus compounding the problem.
Mr Chipampe urged ZAMCOM to come up with a way of helping to address the problem.
After the whole morning of deliberations, the meeting unanimou s ly agr e ed on the content, certification and management of the course and passed a resolution to start the process of self-regulation in earnest
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka