Monday, June 17, 2024

WHAT’S IN A WORD?

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By Linda Kasonde

I was recently asked to give remarks at a Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) event on the need to protect the social media space from political interference. I began to think about why the media, particularly social media, is so important and what its impact has been on the world. The media is called the fourth estate because it provides checks and balances on government. Traditionally those checks and balances are provided through spoken or written word. It was the writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton who coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” or, as Mark Twain put it, “never fight with people who buy ink by the barrel”.

The modern-day advent of the internet and the smart phone has made social media a phenomenon. We only have to think of how social media initiated the Arab Spring, mainstreamed the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or even much closer to home, ended #Lintonlies to see just how powerful it can be. Now anyone with an internet connection has the power to send information all across the world at the touch of a button. In an article entitled ‘Something Extraordinary is Happening in the World, and Most People Haven’t Noticed’ Brazilian writer Gustavo Tanaka says, “The internet is an incredibly spectacular thing, and only now – after so many years – we are (sic) understanding its power. With the internet, the world is open, the barriers fall, the separation ends, the togetherness starts, the collaboration explodes, the help emerges”. It is that powerful.

 Linda Kasonde
Linda Kasonde

With power comes responsibility. I have recently watched a video about poet and writer Maya Angelou in which she begins the story of her life by quoting the book of  John Chapter One which begins, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”. Angelou believed that words were so powerful that they were things, actually tangible. She warned us to be careful with how we use words. Social media users have the power to launch a missile that can have the cataclysmic effect of forever destroying lives without recourse. Whilst many good things have come from social media, it can also be a place where hateful, bigoted, deceitful and ignorant people hide behind anonymity; a place of ugliness. In Zambia, nowhere was that more apparent than when that ugliness reared its head in the run up to the August 2016 general elections making it impossible to discern fact from fiction and truth from deceit. It sowed seeds of division and “otherness” that threatened the “One Zambia, One Nation” narrative. It threatened us Zambians as a people. Despite that, I do not believe that social media freedoms should be clamped down on. The benefits of social media far outweigh its deficiencies. It gives us beauty for ashes.

Social media allows for the easy dissemination of information. I have said in other fora that, in a democracy, the market place of ideas should be allowed to flourish as ideas create different options and it is only when you have a wide choice of options that you have the best possible solutions to any challenge. We have many challenges on our continent and in our country: poverty, disease, illiteracy and unemployment being at the top of the list. We cannot afford to allow the space for the creation and dissemination of ideas to shrink in the face of such massive challenges. I am encouraged by recent proposals by government to again put an enhanced Bill of Rights before the people of Zambia at a national referendum. I hope and pray that the proposed Bill of Rights will be the same as the one proposed in the 2016 referendum. That Bill of Rights contains the right to freedom of information, freedom of the media, freedom of association and the right to protection against arbitrary detention amongst others. Guaranteeing these rights will ensure that the voice of the people is heard, that ideas are shared and that therefore democracy thrives.

There is a well-known Bemba saying; “umwana ashenda atasha nyina uku naya”. Loosely translated it means, “a child who never leaves home thinks his mother’s cooking is the best”. The comedian Trevor Noah put it another way, “We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream what you can imagine…”. Your imagination is only limited to what you are exposed to. Imagination is the key to creativity and innovation. By restricting the voice of the people, whether on social media or by any other means, we risk denying our people the freedom to dare to dream of, and thereby realise, a better future for us all.

The author of this article is an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Fellow and the President of the Law Association of Zambia. This article represents her own personal views.

20 COMMENTS

  1. My woman just slapped me, right here, right now, for spending 3 minutes starring at Linda.
    3 minutes its a long time, I agree. 3 minutes is 1 boxing round ka.
    I am suing Linda for this.

    • Nice article ba Linda, i couldn’t agree more, even though i think you could have done better. It has ended where i was thinking you were just gaining some momentum. If i was marking your paper i can give you a C.

  2. Freedom is a personal and social concept. At personal level, your opinion belongs to you whether others agree or disagree with you. The social level recognizes the freedom of others. My freedom ends where your freedom starts. This is the public space that requires social approval. When conflict arises, then legally sanctioned intervention is necessary. Was it criminal libel? Was is unlawful? Was it fair? Was it true? Was it necessary? These questions can not be answered without sufficient educational background. There is need to educate media providers and consumers on the implications of media ethics and media law. Very often, in the media a journalist chooses to abuse, belittle, demean, denigrate, insult. When self censorship fails, then the law needs to take charge.

  3. POINT OF CORRECTION MADAM, NOT GENESIS BUT The Word Became Flesh
    John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God(New International Version (NIV)

  4. Well thought out Madam, good observation.

    Henceforth , we need a tight Cyberspace_Regulation. While the the Framework is pipeline as per Bill of Rights and The ICT Policy is place, the Actual regulation is porous. The Electronic Communication and Transactions Act 2009 (Repealing The Computer Misuse and Crime Act 2004) is not adequate enough to combat Cyber Crime which has taken a new twist due to Tech_Edge.

    Your Institution (LAZ) could spearhead this important milestone to push for revision of the Act. Zambia also needs Expert Lawyers in Cyber Law who should be TECH_EDGE Competent esp with a Major in Computers Forensics.

    Lets avoid Crisis Management and be proactive. We have brilliant individuals like you Madam who can bring sanity in Management of our beautiful Country.

  5. A balanced read. The Past used the word to destroy people. The Nchitos led by perhaps the shortest serving failed ex Dpp (second only to kalima), and Fred become dons. They found their way to the highest office in the land through LPM. They formed a fight which was bent to plunder whilst pointing fingers outwards. With the Tax Force in their hands, everyone was nonsense and when their Michael got into power they decided they wont only write about people they shall try them first in the paper and later in court.. And did they bring brothers down. Once done they stopped paying taxes, and anyone who refused their request was squeezed…oh can forget those silly headlines/editorials?

  6. Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. What we must do is to redo our curriculum for lack of basic education needed for Zambia. We must take a stand against mental enslavement in the name of religion creeping through facebook and other forms.

  7. Very good article, pleasant read but could have gone deeper. Especially now that we have a Minister of Misinformation who is hell bent on silencing any one with dissenting views. Even a simple cough from the so-called dissenters will not be tolerated. Any chance of getting your number for further discussion?

  8. Speech is not unhindered. You cannot continue to insult people verbally without the law taking its course. Like other forms of communication, social media should be regulated, if not by self. The insults I have seen on this platform are very unChristian, very unfriendly, and very unZambian. Let us treat one another with respect, in spite of perceived differences. God bless you all.

  9. Sorry readers, the “unfriendly” in my last post was meant to be “unAfrican” since there can be no such thing as as friendly insult.

  10. all tabloids have failed to neutral….i think they are corrupted….they are bought off on price…they are projects for powerful individuals in society….thats the failing point and i dont see them standing up…..

  11. Am of the view that social media should ,develop a certain soft ware that would block automatically any comment that d
    seems insulting.

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