State House Spokesman and media advisor to the Head of State, Amos Chanda, has castigated sections of the media for grossly peddling lies. The issue of ‘bad’ media has been of great concern to me and several other citizens who seek for professional journalism. I also believe it is in the power of authorities to make ‘bad’ media irrelevant in the eyes of the public.
MY EXPERIENCE: I have shared on this Facebook page before about my many encounters with President Michael Sata at the time I served as Director General of ZNBC. One of the incidents related to his anxiety about broadcasting the proceedings of the Barotseland Convention. He suggested blacking out the story in national interest and I countered that doing so would give credence to private and social media who would grossly distort information, forcing his ministers to later seek to ‘correct the record’ on an event public media never covered in the first place. He withdrew the suggestion, we covered the event.
In another meeting attended by public media heads (ZNBC, Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail), and George Chella, the Media Advisor to the President at the time, concerns were raised to the President about the gratuitous interference by some ministers in our operations. President Sata’s response in summary; ‘I want more voices, critical voices from Kanyama, Mandevu, Matero…I want to see their cries on ZNBC to help me know the truth about what is happening; do not censor them….Do not only cover (Wynter) Kabimba attacking GBM (Geoffrey Bwalya) or GBM attacking Kabimba. Cover both so that I analyse them better.’
There were challenges in the ZNBC newsroom of editors failing to reform, shutting off certain voices despite the instruction to project balanced, objective and fair information. One editor said, ‘Sir, we are doing this to protect government and your job.’ The contrary view, which I still stand for, is that Government is not protected by half-truths or distorted information. On the contrary, the best way to destroy the integrity of government is to hide correct information; by doing so, the public begins to mistrust their own government, an extremely dangerous state in governance.
PROACTIVE ENGAGEMENT: I strongly advise those responsible for Government communications to be very proactive in the handling of information. This, to some extent, destroys ‘bad’ media. For example, government can easily publish all institutions, by name, that benefitted from the three Eurobonds. That is public information and we do not want any manner of speculation on information of this nature. On the recently published Presidential trips, government can quickly call the Auditor General to publish the correct information. Imagine what that would do to the media house that published this information. Only irresponsible and unpatriotic citizens would spend a dime on such a newspaper because the truth would have been laid bare.
LEARNING FROM IMF: This institution has revolutionised its media engagement after learning the hard lesson during the 1998 Asian Crisis. It’s media engagement policy at that time was, ‘never say anything to the media; you are safe that way.’ Today, the IMF has moved from about three communications experts in the 1990s to nearly 130 today, all focused on proactively engaging stakeholders on providing information, even on things of low public interest. The 2014 IMF Global Opinion Survey we carried out at the time I served as Communications Advisor, revealed that the IMF is now among the world’s most trusted organisations; not that the public agrees and supports its policies, but that many believe what it says is highly authentic.
In short, my young brother, Amos Chanda, the gentleman I hold in high esteem, can easily apply two Bible verses that have shaped my thinking about increasing trust and credibility,
‘For you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’ John 8.32. ‘For we can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.’ 2 Cor 13.8