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Media & 2011 Elections

By Nalumino Nalumino

Yesterday on June 21, 2011 I received a phone call from Shamba Muzungu one of the team members at the MISA Zambia, Secretariat inviting me to be one of the guests on the Face the Media radio programme today (June 22, 2011).

I was humbled by the invitation though unable to attend due to some pressing office work and especially that I was out of the station for a long time. I really would have liked to feature on the programme because the topic “Media and Elections” is a very crucial topic especially during an elections year such as this one when Zambians will go to the polls to elect leaders of their own choice through the ballot.

However, I would like to share a few thoughts on this subject having facilitated on topic of a similar nature during the national-wide works on Election Reporting sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme working in collaboration with the Electoral Commission of Zambia.

During that workshop I stated that it is undoubted that the media play a very critical role in the life of all human societies because it provides the conduit necessary for all kinds of communication that helps societies exist and function. Contemporary thinking is such that to live in harmony, societies need communication that is beneficial to its constituents.

In modern democratic societies, which entail representative governments, the media play the very essential role of ensuring that information vital to the existence, survival and development of constituents of such societies is availed to them in a timely, equitable, fair and balanced manner.

Thus at election time, when constituents must elect their representatives, it becomes doubly imperative that the media afford citizens all information necessary for them to make informed choices about whom to elect and whom not to elect into positions of authority.

During this year’s tripartite elections, the Zambian media especially must play three undisputable roles in the electoral process. Yes, it is true the media can play several roles but I have deliberately itemized three which I believe are extremely crucial at the moment namely watchdog role, voter education role and peace Building role

Watchdog Role

The media plays the watch dog role when they expose errors of commission or omission by those in power in their pursuit to cling to power at all cost. It is human nature that people in positions of authority would always want to protect themselves against any perceived threat to their own turf and would therefore go to great lengths ensuring they remain in power. This can result in massive abuse of public resources leading to further impoverishment of our people.

The media can alert citizens to various practices that are unethical in the manner politicians, civil servants, civil society or the media is conducting itself.

The watchdog role does not spare any one individual or political party not even the Electoral Commission of Zambia if they are found wanting.

Immediately, a media organization or journalist become partial in their reporting they become irrelevant to the equation of ethical conduct. They become part of the problem and not a solution because compromised media entities or journalists give the electorates biased coverage they  robe the citizenry the golden chance of making an informed decision.

The media can expose schemes to disadvantage those outside the corridors of power and this role they do very well except that they fail to scrutinize themselves beyond the criticism of alleged biased coverage in fovour of the government or opposition depending on whether the media outfit is public or private. This is absurd and this is why organizations and individuals like myself are calling for Non Statutory Media Regulation in this country.

The media can expose manipulation of citizens through the distribution of bribes and other illegal niceties during campaign periods. The majority of our people are poor and it has become a common practice that political parties find it fashionable to abuse their own brothers and citizens by buying their conscious.

If I were to feature on that programme this morning, I would have condemned this practice which affects both the ruling and opposition parties.

Voter Education

The media can educate citizens through stories that adequately explain the national situation (political, social and economic) so that the citizenry will not only benefit from improved service delivery but will also take part in the development processes of the nation. The media can explain in simple terms specific legal and administrative issues which can be seen to be fundamental for any election undertaken to be free and fair as well as adequately encourage eligible persons to register as voters and to actually cast their ballot when elections are due.

The media should provide a platform for all candidates and their parties to present their manifestos to the public. I have no quarrel with a media outfit throwing their support behind a particular candidate and give that candidate the deserved coverage. However, I have a professional challenge accepting a situation where other candidates should not be covered whether equally or equitably regardless of any public or undercurrents.

In this 2011 tripartite election, our Zambian media should expose parties and candidates that instigate or have the propensity to cause violence so that the citizenry may be made alert to any such possibilities. It is actually a shame that the past two days Zambians including senior government officials have been calling for restraint of MMD cadres from verbal/ physical harassment and violence of innocent grieving citizens who only wanted to mourn Zambia’s Second Republican President, Fredrick Chiluba. This is the worst drama of its kind, shameful precedent and send off to deceased person regardless of station in life.

The media should expose practices of vote-buying or illegal party financing to the electorate; expose the proliferation of defamation and hate speech in campaigns aimed at influencing nationals negatively; expose voter intimidation by party workers, corruption in decision-making processes, and the systematic exclusion of certain sectors of society in the electoral process.

The media may strive to expose instances where political parties threaten the functioning of democratic systems rather than support them and thus disenfranchise eligible voters while at the same time the media can strive to explain to the electorate, in clear and simple language, national, regional and universal pieces of legislation and other regulations governing the proper conduct of democratic elections.

The media should labour to explain to the citizenry the importance of their participative involvement in all aspects of governance systems such as voting.

In their dairy meetings, journalists should try to focus on the issues, by talking to ordinary people, particularly those lacking a strong voice in society e.g. the elderly and the young, women, the poor, and ethnic and religious minorities on issues affecting them as an integral part of our society. The media must strive to put citizens’ views to candidates and report their responses back to the citizens so that they know and understand their potential governors. It shocking and mind boggling when those seeking public office shun public debates or meetings and when they (candidates) accept such an invitation they send representatives to speak on their behalf.

The media, in its agenda-setting role, can provide diverse view points and unbiased information, offer forum for debate involving citizens and the civil society, mediate in national development projects and contribute to sustainable flow of information.

Peace Building

Man, (including woman) by nature, is selfish. From this selfishness emanates attitudes and actions that may threaten tranquility. The state of maintaining peace therefore calls for conscious and sustained efforts toward creating and recreating conditions conducive to sustaining that peace without which there can be no development of any society.

Election time often comes with a charged atmosphere, when candidates and their supporters jostle for power, which can potentially be a recipe for disharmony.

The media may participate in fuelling such type of contestation. This is because the traditional way of reporting news has always been premised on the maxim that ‘bad news is good news’. The greatest challenge for the media therefore lies in reorienting their predisposition from projecting negativity to fostering positivity; a prerequisite for peace.

The media should highlight the strengths rather than weaknesses of contesting individuals and parties (where such weaknesses are not criminal or immoral); highlight contestants’ views about tackling issues that may impact on people’s welfare rather than perceptions about their opponents; highlighting projects that reflect co-operation, dialoguing, and reconciliation within communities

Aroma of Zambian Peace

The aroma of Zambian peace is an admiration and dream of every African. It appears to me without any apology to anyone that Zambians especially noisy and empty headed career politicians have taken the Zambian peace for granted.

Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya enjoyed a similar manner of peace until one day when hell broke loose resulting in scars that will remain with the African soils forever. The media should remind the politicians that in their quest to nourish their stomachs noting that very few entre politics to serve the people of this great country, they need to realise that this peace has been as a result of persistent vigilance of the founding fathers of Zambia.

The Zambian peace is not an accident and it calls for politicians and all the citizens to expose those with a high propensity for violence. Those that commit violence today and go scot free because of their inclination to the ruling party should be made to account for their action at the right time unless they depart to the other side of town where only God will seek for answers from them for the spilled blood in this life.

In conclusion, I wish to appeal to the Church to pray for all political leaders, cadres and all Zambians to approach this years’ elections with a sober mind knowing that this is not these are not the closing episode of elections in the history of Zambian.

We need peace. We demand peace. We demand a free and fair election. Viva Zambia.

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June 22, 2011 Posted by | Self Xpression | , , , , | Leave a comment