BY KELLYS KAUNDA
When a State-owned-media covers the travels of the Head of State of their country reporting his/her arrival, meetings held, places visited, dinners or lunches attended or inspection of development projects – a section of the country and media commentators in the west scream: propaganda! The effect? No attention is paid to the activities. But when a leader in the west leaves on a similar assignment, journalists from all kinds of media are invited on the plane, interview him/her onboard, beam live the landing of the plane, meandering of the motorcade to the reception center, cover all the meetings held, press conferences conducted, dinners and lunches attended, etc. They pronounce this as a model of journalism!
In both instances, the same thing is happening – its both journalism except that in Africa, we are made to believe that covering a Head of State in this manner is propaganda but legitimate news in the west. When the western media uses commentators as the coverage is unfolding, we hail this as quality journalism unlike our coverage that rarely provides such commentary. However, did you know that the downside of providing so-called expert commentary is that the media can then decide to influence the direction of independent thinking on the part of the viewer?
When Aljazeera organized a discussion on governance in Zambia recently, one of the commentaries I read “wondered” why similar discussions are not held on ZNBC. First, in the mind of the commentator, Aljazeera has demonstrated quality journalism, which ZNBC “does” not have because they are hosting a “very” important topic that the national broadcaster has never hosted. This reasoning is confirmation of how we have been influenced to view what is news and what is not news. As far as we are concerned, the discussion programs that ZNBC holds are propaganda and mean nothing to a Zambian citizen and therefore not worth watching.
For us, watching a program on efforts to combat malaria, provide clean drinking water, build roads, schools, provide water transport, build a hospital on Chilubi Island and many such issues is not journalism but government propaganda. And yet, when BBC covers similar issues for their own audiences, we are so glued to television we forget that it is the same developmental news we refuse to watch on our own ZNBC! We become so conversant with infrastructure development in the west, we forget similar efforts in our own country.
Today, we hail Aljazeera as a worthy and quality alternative to CNN and BBC. But do we know that Aljazeera as a media initiative is a response to the portrayal of the Middle East on these once-dominant news channels on the global stage? Do you know that CGTN (a Chinese global TV network) is also a response to how the international media covered not only China but, the rest of the world? But when African governments respond by similar models – owning their own media, some sections of our own societies scream lack of press freedom! Private media on the African continent is modeled after the thinking in the west, which some parts of the world like the Middle East and China have rejected but accepted among some sections of our populations in Africa. Our private media entities have reinforced the western narrative of who we are “supposed” to be by making available their platforms to newsmakers and commentators of similar ilk. You hear them describe the state of governance in Africa in the same way as their western counterparts: any development that contradicts their wisdom is bad for everyone and from their perspective, most African leaders and their governments are corrupt and dictators.
The narrative on the African continent is filled with so much contradiction, it can only mean one thing: the absence of the liberty of mind among those that have access to the media.