At least there is an agreement between the Zambian government and the media on the need for media regulation. How this is to be done and who should do it remains a point of disagreement.
The media has come up with a self-regulation mechanism under the new Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC). This body was born out of wide consultation among the media organisations and institutions operating in the country after government threatened to regulate the media if they did not put their house in order. According to the state, the media is “irresponsible” because it has no regard for government authority. To the state, regulation should be about punishing wrongdoers and insulating political leaders from insults and unfair coverage.
While the media has come so near to establish the Zambia Media Council, its operations remain a far-fetched dream. The constitution is in place, and it clearly stipulates the functions of the ZAMEC in its preamble: “We the Zambian Journalists believe that good faith with the public is the foundation of all worthy journalism. We should be accountable to the public for our reports, and the public should be encouraged to voice any grievances against the media. Open dialogue with our readers, viewers, and listeners should be actively encouraged.”
Contrary to the views of government and its allies, media regulation is about upholding and preserving the bond of natural trust and respect between the public and the media. Experts have further argued that regulation of the media cannot be left to the whims of the state because part of the duty of the media in modern democracies is to provide checks and balances to the government and create an open society. In that way, government can’t take up the role of regulation when it has to be checked by the same media.
The government insists they want an effective tool in place which will address their concerns; in other words, they have not approved the self-regulation route. The media has been through this road under the Media Council of Zambia (MECOZ), and it did not work is the argument they are putting up. The government has chosen to ignore pertinent issues that led to failure of MECOZ – one of which was the issue of non-inclusiveness. Some important institutions, such as The Post Newspapers, a leading private tabloid, and the Catholic Media Services, were not part of the Media Council of Zambia. The significance of the Zambia Media Council is that it has brought all these institutions on board.
The media fraternity after holding a series of meetings that culminated in the “Fringilla Agreement” (named after a farm lodge) attended by all local media bodies and organisations unanimously agreed on the way forward by stating: “We the representatives of various media organisations and media houses, ... do hereby declare that after exhaustive consultations and debate, we agree on the development of a non-statutory, self-regulation framework, leading to the establishment of an all-inclusive Zambia Media Council by 3rd May 2010,” (Public Broadcasting in Africa Series.
The media has arrived but the government insists dialogue should continue so that their concerns are brought on board. These concerns have remained locked up in a distant closet known only by the government itself as they have not been made public. This has heightened fears that once the same government retains political power after the 2011 presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, they will introduce a Statutory Regulation Bill in parliament.
Charles Mafa - Journalist
Take South Africa for instance. Since it passed the bill, its media has become more robust than at any time in its history. Even as the chorus of anti-media sentiment from the government persists, the media emerges stronger rather than weakened.
But I wonder whether journalists and civil society people in Nigeria are prepared enough for the bill. Do they have the capacity to use it to promote peace, stability and democratic institutions ahead of the challenges of the next few years?
We have seen many cases of information abuses. Some media workers, including journalists, engage in illegal and unprofessional acts of demanding for and receiving gratification from individuals and groups seeking media access, reinforcing already deep-seated societal divide.
Is it not time for media workers in the country to receive specialised training on the about-to-be-passed bill to ensure effective use for agenda-setting and development?
I know Nigerian media workers face challenges. Since media owners find it difficult to pay wages due to economic stress, workers are forced to work for several months without pay. They may not concentrate on any training programme due to financial pressure..
The large number of print outlets could hamper the project as very many journalists have to be trained. Then there is the issue of the sharp increase in the number of broadcast stations. It will be difficult to find a private company ready to support the training of so many people.
But South Africa faced challenges as well, yet the media has been able to make significant impact on governance issues. If South Africa can do it, why not Nigeria? It is important Nigerian media workers are exposed to possibilities of using the bill to intensify dialogue on the country's development. If they set agenda for politicians, Nigeria will witness more transparency and accountability.
In a previous post examining coverage of various development issues by the Nepali media titled Nepal's Media Needs to Move on From Breaking News, I stressed that both English and Nepali language media in Nepal need to make development issues a priority and not restrict them to the inside columns. That post was published here in late January. Has there been any change in last four months? And how does Nepali media's coverage of development issues compare to neighboring India?
Unfortunately, in last four months, development issues are still non-essential for Nepal's media. A simple observation made it clear that the newspapers are focusing more on politics and subjects that bring in advertising money and also attract younger audience. Increased coverage of "lifestyle" and celebrity news is an example.
Kantipur Daily, Nepal's largest selling paper, whose audience ranges from the urban, educated to the rural poor, has six development related stories on its May 16 paper. None of them made it to the front page, but comparatively better than sister publication Kathmandu Post. The English language daily had just one development story, which was featured in the front page - small consolation.
Friday,May 13th paper was also similar. Kathmandu Post covered just one development story and Kantipur had six.
It would be unfair to criticize the publication by comparing two days of coverage, but this is meant to be a snapshot of a sustained trend, to show that how development issues are regularly sidelined. Kantipur and Kathmandu Post are two largest newspapers in Nepal's limited media market. It can be safely assumed that they are representative of Nepal's mainstream journalism, and their approach towards development issues shows a sad reality that today Nepal's media would rather focus on discussing every political issue, push lifestyle features and waste space with celebrity "news", rather than prioritize essential development issues.
Neighboring India, which is very influential in the region and also in Nepal, is currently a hot topic among international business community and also among diplomatic and political community. It offers a huge, growing market with lot of potential and is already established as a technology leader - thanks to outsourcing boom.
To find a representative paper in the Indian's media market is near impossible, because of language, geographical and regional diversity. Taking cultural and geographical proximity into consideration; we will focus on northern India. Hindustan Times' Hindi edition has wide circulation in capital New Delhi and in number of major cities.
Hindustan Times featured just one development related story on May 16th and two on May 13th.
It is clear that media in Nepal is not seeing the value in prioritizing development issues. A section of Indian media is also echoing the same. While the mainstream media is ignoring development issues, citizen journalism-blogs, social networking sites are pushing these issues. In Nepal's context, blogs like MySansar, WhyNepal and TFCNepal are very much focused on issues like right to information, women's issues, education and reform. Numbers of bloggers are emerging as development champions like Chandan Sapkota and Ujjwal Thapa.
Question now arises, will the change in mainstream media come following public's demand or does it have to have financial merits? Also, if the mainstream fails to honor the public's wishes, will that push more readers towards citizen media and blogs?
Sources: www.hindustantimes.com www.ekantipur.com
Take The Guardian, one of the most widely read newspapers in Nigeria, for example. Its articles are well-researched, and the columnists provide great insight into national and international affairs. Its articles and news stories have formed the opinion of millions of Nigerians, and the paper is well patronized. As a journalist, I read the paper almost every day to get the latest news and information.
But a lot of times, I wonder if a mainstream newspaper can get alternative messages across to readers.
Take Sahara Reporters.com, a radical blog, as another example. This platform reports often controversial political stories, and its depth of research is well above the trash Nigerians are fed by mainstream press. It has reported on corruption, electoral malpractices, shenanigans in the banking sector, etc. But who reads it? It’s an online newspaper, and many are yet to explore the treasures of this medium.
Other Nigerian blogs are also daring. Packed with news absent from mainstream newspapers, they have audience both within and outside the country. The audience is engaged with news and information not fed readers by the popular press. Week after week, they give inside information about politics, sports and entertainment. And this is exactly what the public craves for: news behind the news, the trashy details and lurid stories. But they are not well-supported because they are not in the mainstream.
I don’t think journalism ethics should be disregarded by the new media. It is important stories are true. But the concept of revealing information mainstream newspapers cannot publish is genius. People read the news because the stories can be over the top and astonishing.
The role the social media played during the recent Nigerian elections illustrates the importance of this need. They brought readers in through engaging discussion, and kept them coming back through news, video, photo and election results. The video and photos showed the election right to the polling booths. The people behind the exercise did not sacrifice truth. It is a unique development in a complex country like Nigeria, and it deterred the snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral malpractice. Unfortunately, social media has limited audience, and the work of practitioners and others is not well-supported.
I feel this medium has the right to promote, preserve and defend freedom of expression. Ultimately, as we continue to develop communication for development purposes, we will see the importance of supporting often overlooked platforms that rise up and tell the truth. Through social media, society may be able to have a better pulse on news. It can publish what mainstream dare not transmit to the public: information that does not conform to the norm, independent stories free from government control and radical insight to social and political issues. Society can do without mistakes, but it also wants to know the truth.
Many historians will tell you truth is the first casualty in times of political upheaval or war. With the turmoil in Libya and Zimbabwe, and then the conflicts in Ivory Coast and Somalia, they have been proved right.
A politically vulnerable President Robert Mugabe and his administration have unleashed the harshest news media crackdown in their notoriously repressive tenure in Zimbabwe. Elsewhere, particularly in places like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Togo, armed groups attacked journalists as a special target group. Truth is a casualty in these and other places.
I think one of the solutions is the development of citizen journalism. Along with foreign radio stations and television, citizen journalism has encouraged and supported the overhaul of oppressive leaders in the Middle East and a few African countries. It helped relay information from volatile rural areas in Zimbabwe, where pro-government militants cracked down on the news media and opposition in its last election.
Volunteer journalists will not be conspicuous, and they remain one of the progressive groups on the African continent, distributing information through blog, camera phones, video and other media. Surfing through the net, it is likely citizen journalists are leaking out news about the oppressive tendencies happening in their countries. Though statistics are not definite, thousands of them abound, and they are the unnamed heroes and heroines of the ongoing African story.
Can there not be a coalition of citizen journalists for the African region? Of course, tech savvy volunteers may not have the journalistic skills to make good strategic choices all the time, but I believe that trained and well organised citizen journalism group could shape continental dialogue and increase the demand for change. What if there is a private organisation or group ready to create such a brand?
Critics may be sceptical about the idea of African citizen journalists collaborating together. Can citizen journalists learn the difference between contributing a personal opinion and generating information? Can they develop story ideas and learn to report on hot topics and not blocked toilets in their schools? Would it not be too difficult to find an organisation or private group that has the financial muscle to support the initiative? Many will say no to these questions.
They are justified considering other challenges remain. For instance, critics may say Africa lacks power for citizen journalists to distribute information about the continent on a regular and organised basis. Then there is also the issue of differences in terms of tradition, political system and culture.
But many citizen journalists in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other countries suffer from power outages and lack of journalistic training, not to mention financial challenges. Despite this, they helped to shape public discourse.
There is a new world out there for the making. An African citizen journalism coalition represents a new means of gaining global audience as well as ability to skirt local control.
One of my foreign colleagues remarked that “Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) is public, so why should it always suit government.” Many local and independent minds have asked the similar question on several occasions. The likeliness for media to be co-opted by excessive political, ethnic or other forces appears to be on the rise - at least in Zambia.
The situation isn’t good especially now that Zambians need news that is accurate, fair and balanced so that they can make right choices in this year’s (2011) presidential, parliamentary, local government elections. The public media can do more by remaining non-partisan because tax payers have a stake in its affairs.
The contribution of the media in the electoral process is critical to the holding of free, fair and credible elections. This can only be made possible by a free, independent and pluralistic media. In a democracy the media helps create an informed citizenry and provide a platform for inclusive public debate.
In the words of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), “good journalism is in the interest of the public. It offers news that is accurate, fair and balanced; gives voice to the voiceless and contains the diversity of views that a particular story demands.”
This observation is particularly important as the people of Zambia prepare to vote. People savour a media which pays extra attention to ethical standards and professionalism as a way to avoid fuelling violence during elections. In an election year, the media is cast into the spotlight as many people crave for news which will help them make informed decisions as they go to cast their vote. In modern democracies, journalists enjoy protected rights to move freely to collect news and views and demand transparency and accountability. In turn, the media must be responsible and operate with a clear conscience and remain objective. This does not mean that their freedom will not be tested by those who are targeted by its fact-finding and watchdog role. The only protection for any criticism is by the journalists paying continual attention to ethical standards of fairness, accuracy and balance in their reporting.
Free and independent media don’t come by accident. One of the ways we can achieve this is by making correct approaches to media regulation - encouraging independent regulatory bodies and help self-regulation initiatives work. Government can play an important role in this process by putting in place policies which encourages growth and independence of the media industry. In December 2002 two laws which should have made the public broadcaster independent of government oversight and placed control of broadcast licensing in the hands of an independent body were passed. Unfortunately these laws have not been fully enacted. The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC Act) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA Act) together set up independent boards for the national broadcaster and the broadcast regulatory body, respectively, but these aspects of the law were never implemented.
As the election date nears, there are signs of government’s desire not to let go of its grip on media control. As clearly noted by the International Press Institute (IPI) “the continued refusal by government to work with the self-regulatory body… is a political desire to control information ahead of this year’s general elections.”
The media has done its work by coming up with a self-regulation framework under the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC). To date, ZAMEC is not operational because government is reluctant to allow its media institutions participate freely. The government owned Times of Zambia and the Daily Mail newspapers, the public broadcaster Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) as well as the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) are among the largest and most significant media houses, and these outlets’ participation in ZAMEC is critical to its success. Proponents of self-regulation believe the government is more interested in strong-arming the media industry ahead of the elections.
What should be clear to government is that once self-regulation becomes operational, the media itself will help in building trust and credibility and improve quality standards. ZAMEC will create a channel to deal with complaints about the work of the media through collective decision making. Such a system offer guarantees to the public about the quality of information it receives, demonstrate that media professionals are responsible, and show that extended state regulation of the media is not needed.
Charels Mafa - Journalist
Posted by ambika samarthya on Fri, 2011-05-06 05:45
During the recent Nigerian elections, which the international voting watchdogs deemed fairly run, the Southern candidate, current President Goodluck Jonathan, received more votes than the Northern candidate, former dictator General Buhari. The perception was that Goodluck got 99 percent of the votes in the South (for anyone who has studied statistics, this number is highly improbable), but that not all Northerners voted for Buhari.
The difference in these two candidates is stark: one comes from an army background, the other from politics. Jonathan has been ruling the country since Yar Adua’s death last year; Buhari ruled as a military dictator in the early 80s and was overthrown. Goodluck is more passive and a background player; Buhari more aggressive and charismatic. There was also a third candidate, Ribado, that took many of the new youth vote. More than anything else, Jonathan represents the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and that party has not lost presidential election since 1999.
But once the results came out, it seemed like the only difference anyone, including media outlets in and outside the country, wanted to talk about was religion. Buhari, representing the North, is Muslim; Jonathan is Christian. All of a sudden, Northerners were literally in arms, burning houses of people who were suspected of supporting and voting for Goodluck, “A good Muslim would only vote for another Muslim,” became the credo. In line with political diplomacy, the rule has been that winnings candidate always had a VP of the different religion or other part of the country. Goodluck’s VP is Muslim; Buhari’s is Christian. So how exactly does someone stay true to their religion?
Within hours, Nigerian Facebook pages were lit up with conversations and discussions about the religious war, with slurring and finger pointing galore. Photos from the two hardest hit states, Kano and Kaduna, were put up all over, with a pointed discussion that had two predominant themes: Buhari has shown irresponsibility by encouraging such conflict to happen and Northern Muslims and Southern Christians will never get along.
From afar, it was easy to see this whole situation as a very clear and simple case of divide and rule. Here were two candidates who are well known for their corruption and inadequacies, and suddenly instead of the discussion being how Jonathan can (who put Abuja in danger by not paying attention to a bomb threat on independence day) guarantee security for the country, it became about religion and the North-South divide. How easy the candidates had it that they go on with their ineffective policies on education and health, looting the country’s wealth, while the masses and the people who would suffer most were now riled up over religious conflict.
I have seen this time and time again in India, and even in the states, where discussions towards race divert the real attention away from serious public policy issues. It’s not a coincidence that at time of heavy bipartisanship Obama is suddenly defending his presidency with a birth certificate. It’s very easy to talk about where you are born; much harder to get a health insurance bill passed.
But what I am angered about is the role social media, which has proudly created revolutions of freedom and change in the Middle East, has been used to promote tribalism and division. I was happy to see a former colleague of mine, a radio and TV producer, finally write on his Facebook page: “Everyone who is making this a religious issue, shut up. It’s not, and you should be punished for what you are causing.”
Between a government censored media outlet, and a foreign press that had its attention focused on Libya and the Middle East, the culprit of this misunderstanding was Facebook. I am a true believer in social media, but social media is just that: it’s an interactive place for friends to chat and discuss. It does not NEED to be a credible media source, nor does it have to defend its accusations or show any references to its claim. Unfortunately in countries where people can not turn to a representative and uncensored media, Facebook has become their source of information. It’s not journalism; it’s gossip.
I was discussing the situation with my family, explaining to them that people were making this into a religious issue when it’s not. My Nigerian friend said, “no, they are hurting themselves because of religion.” I said, “True, but it was not a religious issue, it’s now claimed to be a religious issue.” He agreed.
I think of Magritte’s painting of the pipe. “This is not a pipe,” the French cursive states. Magritte’s point was simply that a painting and illustration of something does not mean it’s actually that thing. I wish I could put a comment on all the Facebook discussions, “This is not a religious conflict.”
Posted by ambika samarthya on Mon, 2011-03-14 18:59
When film and TV producers work on a media campaign for a social issue, be it raising HIV awareness or alleviating violence against children, their focus is on making their message get across. One of the main considerations has always been to have a final product that is well-shot, slick, and looks good. Development is about people and to get people’s attention is not always easy.
Take the BBCWST’s “Condom Condom” mass media campaign in India, aimed at reducing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The commercials have superior animation, great acting, and detailed production design. These innovative ads have been spread around the world via viral links and Facebook; the campaign has been a huge success. I admire the artistic and creative investment behind their ads. As a broadcast producer and trainer, I spend a lot of time working on making dialogue sound realistic, achieving an edit pace with a specific rhythm, and there’s always good use of graphics and a music soundtrack.
But sometimes I wonder if high quality has any correlation with generating an audience. Do the viewers of the “Condom Condom” commercials appreciate the color correction or just love the talking parakeet?
Take “SuperStory”, for example, one of the most watched TV programs in Nigeria. The low-budget TV show breaks many basic camera rules – everyone is smack in the center of the frame and eyelines don’t always match up. Yet its comedy and tragic drama have kept viewers glued series after series. Stories resonate with the Nigerian situation: two farmers fighting over a land issue; a king deciding his heir amongst his many wives and sons. The audience is so engaged with the drama and the tension that no one would ever be bothered by the awful production design. It’s great stories, low production value.
The film industry in Nigeria is no different. Feature films are often produced for less than 50,000 US dollars and in 2 weeks. Packed with family drama, sex, and great songs, Nollywood movies have a huge audience in Africa as well as the diaspora. No one cares about the awkward camera angles, continuity errors, or cheap sets. Having worked as an Assistant Director in Bollywood, I could see first hand that the emphasis was placed on getting the right stars in the right costumes, not so much on nailing down the script. And for anyone who has seen an episode of the “Jersey Shore”, American tastes are not that different. Week after week, the same characters are on the phone, dancing at a club, or sleeping together, within the same familiar house and the same familiar dialogue. But that is exactly what people are watching it for: they love the dramatic phone calls, the trashy club scenes and the fights.
Audiences are not dumb, and they know and appreciate great production values when they see them. But, and this is the key, most people rather watch a show with low production values that has great melodrama, sex, or comedy over a show with a high production value that is too serious or somber. Inherently people globally watch television as an escape. They watch it to laugh or be amazed by the special effects, or intrigued by the family drama. That’s why soap operas and reality programming do so well with audiences.
I don’t think the solution is disregarding production techniques. It’s important to have both concept and high technical values. Shows like “The Office” immediately come to mind. The simple concept of using a docu-verite camera style to show the interactions and egos of the personalities in a suburban paper company is genius. People watch the show because the characters can be over the top and make them laugh. The BBCWST Nigeria’s production of “Wetin Dey”, a show aimed at raising HIV and AIDS awareness across a diverse population, is another example of both these principles at work. The weekly drama series brought audiences in through engaging characters they could relate to, and kept them coming back through romance and dramatic conflict. The scenes were in familiar settings like schools and motor parks. What I particularly noted was that the people working behind the show never sacrificed on great production values. It’s a beautiful program to watch, full of camera movements, saturated colors and nuanced lighting.
I recently read a New Yorker article where Tom Stoppard, speaking of the importance of comedy in his intellectually dense plays, said about laughs “I feel they’re important because, apart from anything else, I think of laughter as the sound of comprehension.” Ultimately, as we continue to develop communications for advocacy campaigns, we need to focus on making sure we have gotten the message across. Through comedy or melodrama, we may be able to have a better pulse on the audience’s reaction. Bad TV can teach us about how to generate audiences: spend time making sure the end product is funny, has characters that feel familiar and engage the viewer, and tells a dramatic story. People can forgive bad lighting, but they’ll turn off the TV if the joke is flat.
Posted by: ambika samarthya on Thu, 2011-03-10 11:43
Can it be said that no two countries are unhappy in the same way? With the fall of Tunisia followed by the revolution in Egypt, and then the domino spill over many of the countries in the Middle East, that theory has been challenged.
Not only do these countries have similar cultural demographics and histories, but ultimately they are/were ruled by autocratic leaders, oppressed by police brutality, and embittered by unemployment. Most of all their youth have inspired each other and actively use social media.
I think another strong uniting factor is Al Jazeera. Along with bloggers and the camera phone videos, Al Jazeera has encouraged and supported the overhaul of oppressive leaders in the Middle East. They posed a large enough threat in Egypt that the government suspended their press passes. This did not stop them – rather it drew more attention to their power – and they continued to air live coverage from Egypt using audience uploads of locally produced blogs and videos to inform people of the clashes first hand. At a time when lessons may be learned and the world is watching, those who are afraid have their eyes glued on Al Jazeera.
Many people may not even have heard of Al Jazeera, but it remains one of the most progressive institutions in the Arab world, and has given continuous informative and often controversial coverage to that region. Taking a walk through any Arab community in America, it is likely Al Jazeera that is playing in the gyro shops and in the waiting rooms of local organizations. It has over 50 million viewers in the Middle East and is the primary source of a dissenting voice. While Al Jazeera is committed to voicing another face of politics and creating dialogue in the Arab World, most people would agree that it is a policy maker – it helps shape public dialogue and creates a demand for change.
What if there was an Al Jazeera for the African world? I know that Al Jazeera is built on the foundation of a common language (and Qatar family support), but I believe that an English/ French channel in Africa could indeed create discourse on the similarities of the dysfunctions in the continent: religious and ethnic tensions, issues of public health and HIV, corrupt leaders, and economic challenges. Would there be a private organization or family that could step in to create such a brand? (Ironically, Al Jazeera was a Saudi owned Arabic language TV station but the Saudi government censorship boards grew uncomfortable with their reports and quit the venture.)
I know Africa is a much more disconnected land mass in terms of history, culture, or even language. And it would be hard to find a private company that is unbiased and willing to support such a creation. Bringing up the idea with my Nigerian colleagues, they are skeptical about the idea of Africans collaborating together because of long-seated tribal and religious differences. The foundation of Al Jazeera is language and a shared culture, which Africa doesn’t have and has been the cause of centuries of war and violence.
The catch 22 is that issues of class imbalance and lack of basic resources of electricity and power prevent consistent distribution of television and internet media, so any program that is aimed at alleviating these social problems may not reach the public. Then there is also the issue of state censorship.
But many countries in the Arab world are poor and suffer from inadequate resources, not to mention state ownership of all media. Yet, Al Jazeera was able to arrive in those countries and make a significant impact.
Think of the possibilities of bridging divides between conflicts in Uganda and Nigeria, of using blogs and videos from Kenya to start a conversation in Zimbabwe. A possible domino effect of economic policies and putting leaders in the spotlight would create a level of transparency and accountability that African governments really need.
Happy countries are often happy in the same way.
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