Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

The role that the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia played in the 12 plus months prior to the September 20 polls showed, like never before,  the depressingly mediocre state of what ought to be our public media.
The three categorically positioned themselves as mouth-pieces, tirelessly singing ruling party and government praises while simultaneously tearing down and demonising anyone that was considered a threat to MMD and Rupiah Banda’s ambitions of staying in power. The Patriotic Front’s Michael Sata was a particular favourite for the latter assignment.
The mandate of public media (of which Zambia has none) is to be inclusive and provide equitable space to divergent views. None of these three media can claim to have done that because they were, as always, a monopoly of the government and made little effort to conceal their biases. They openly prioritised MMD propaganda and other government serving interests over public interest. This led to a significant exclusion of non-MMD voices thereby hindering inclusive national debate. Newsworthiness was understood to mean any item – sensible or not (one way more often than the other) – that reminded the public why RB was no less than God’s own choice for Zambia!
There was no editorial and programming independence to talk about and it is fair to say these media were a mere extension of the MMD’s public relations wing. In the case of ZNBC, even content that would normally end up in some trash can due to legal, ethical and quality considerations made it on no less than prime time TV as long as it favoured team RB. Consider Chanda Chimba III’s ‘Stand up for Zambia’, a programme anchored on character assassination, defamation, mudslinging and plain hate speech. It was one of several blatant smear campaigns against Sata and those seen as his sympathisers. Chimba, who I remember as a broadcaster from as far back as my primary school years, accused his targets of satanism, homosexuality, brutishness and whatever else he thought would appal Zambia’s largely conservative population and consequently condemn these people to mass unpopularity and rejection. For an institution with so many members of staff, you would expect that at least one of them was aware of the ethical obligation the corporation had to give an opportunity to the named (read condemned) subjects in that programme to also be heard.
But clearly, ZNBC had no qualms about trashing ethics or presenting ‘news’ that would embarrass even an undergraduate journalism student with no work experience, if that’s what it took to build the MMD. We were made to endure ‘news sources’ who would not make it even as a filler on a college radio making headlines on our “national broadcaster” simply because they had “endorsed President Banda” for this and that or “area xyz has been declared a no go zone for opposition party xyz” or such kind of engineered and unconvincingly staged pronouncements.
The Times and Daily were equally outdoing themselves religiously practicing what has been referred to as ‘minister and sunshine’ journalism where the media are expected to be a praise singer solely focused on government officials “delivering development.”
The following stories on the front page of the Times of Monday September 5, 2011 give an idea how things were:
Headline: RB way ahead of Sata – Kavindele
2. Good agro policies will inspire us to vote for RB, say Kalomo farmers
3. RB to officiate at Itezhi-Tezhi power station at groundbreaking ceremony
4. Police warn of stern action against troublesome cadres (read PF cadres)
5. Stop maligning electoral process, PF told
6. Itezhi-tezhi receives 300 tonnes of maize
Add to these an editorial condemning the action of PF cadres in some or other place…
The Daily Mail of the same day led with “Kamwala residents boo Lubinda [PF parliamentary candidate]” and had other stories such as “Banda to launch power plant works” “RB, MMD ahead in campaigns” “GBM [PF candidate] campaign manager arrested” “House counsels Nkomeshya [Chieftainess who snubbed RB], other chiefs”.
The following day the Daily Mail had three stories on the cover “RB will win- Reuters” as bold headline, “Thandiwe [First Lady] welcomes State House clinic” “Rupiah appeals for votes, promises more hard work” Then a blurb “Honour forefathers, vote MMD, Namwala urged”.
And so the “government says” media carried on and on, ensuring that we heard “President Rupiah Banda…” more often than we heard our own names. MMD related “developmental news” was the only news worth reading or writing on unless of course there was a chance to make Sata unpopular. Remember the Sata homosexuality story? Of course you do, who could possibly forget such a generously reported story?! This was the story that was stretched to death with ‘fresh angles’ being found every day in the form of “xyz has joined citizens from all over the country in condemning Mr. Sata’s stance on homosexuality”, the following day the freshness of the angle would manifest in the different name of the source making the exact same call.
No really, you cannot fault these media’s exceptional efforts at constructing a pro MMD reality and engineering public consensus but eish what a disastrous misreading of their audience!
I think even a quick consideration of cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s encoding/ decoding model would have helped some of these media colleagues of mine explain to their MMD buddies that social positioning plays a role in people’s interpretation of media messages. You can’t confidently expect a reader/ viewer to agree with your hegemonic message of “unprecedented economic growth in the country” when they still live in abject poverty.
And no, you state media are no longer able to completely deprive people of alternative voices and realities by unfairly priviledging a particular (MMD=bliss) reality at the expense of all others. Social media has entered the playing field and sadly for you, your information monopoly days are well and truly over.


et cetera