Relieving an encounter with Dora Siliya
And why she’s right about need to curb social media
By Chimwemwe Mwanza
A heavy sound emanating from a high pointed shoe (stiletto) pounded the staircase leading to the reception at Kanjombe house. In no time, an elegantly dressed lady strolled into the reception area.
This author who by then was a teenage freshman pursuing Media studies, was an intern at a now defunct, independent tabloid. Turning to check on the identity of the intruder, yours truly was star-struck, almost dropping his jaw to the floor. Here was Ms Dora Siliya in flesh. Watching the now Honorable Siliya on his family’s small black and white television screen, this author grew up idolising her in the same breath as Maureen Nkandu, late Goreti Mapulanga, and the gruff-voiced Kenneth Maduma among others.
Make no mistake, Siliya, has an infectious aura around her. She’s beautiful, smart but feisty. After an exchange of pleasantries, she went straight to business. “Are you a Journalist? To which a trembling yours truly responded, indeed madam and how can I help you? She narrated her frustrations about the existence of a highly ingrained patriarchal structure at her then employer, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). She strongly believed that this structure only served to silence and frustrate ambitious and talented women Journalists like her.
Moreover, she had observed that exciting and rewarding assignments including the holy grail of international trips, were a preserve of a select few. She now wanted management to put a stop to this practice, a bit more like the biblical David taking on Goliath. But what infuriated her the most was that news bulletins were often skewed and wrongly edited against tenets and ethics of the profession, she lamented further.
“Having said all this, what can I do for you madam,” enquired yours truly? “This is not about me but the fact that women in any work place should not be subjected to such a working environment. We need more women in ZNBC’s decision making structures, maybe that way things will change,” she argued. Prior to our interview, Siliya had just been summoned to a meeting with ZNBC management in which she was threatened with disciplinary action for wearing a mini-skirt. She explained that the incident was merely a ruse, to intimidate her for her outspokenness and principled stand on injustice and freedom of the newsroom.
Relieving this encounter, a few things stood out during our interview. Her determination for ZNBC to transform by offering key positions to women seemed genuine. Her desire for the public broadcaster to offer unbiased but credible news was also on the mark. However, yours truly’s most important observation was that, ZNBC had such expansive radio platforms for her to tell her story yet she chose our publication? “Because you are credible and that is important for me and anybody who cares for the truth. ZNBC would never tell my story and even if they did, it won’t be accurate,” she insisted.
This response was enough to earn her a front-page newspaper headline “Dora’s miniskirts annoy ZNBC bosses,” The following day. The irony of this episode is that she did not flinch at the prospect of earning a dismissal for speaking ill of her employer to a rival media company. Even better, she opted to wear the same short number for the photo-shoot accompanying this story.
Curbing social media
As fate, would have it, Honorable Siliya is now the de-facto head of not only ZNBC but government’s communication apparatus. By extention, she is the most influential figure responsible for shaping Zambia’s narrative against anything that might be perceived as being negative or even positive. Not sure though how far she’s progressed in transforming ZNBC into a well-functioning medium that she’s long-wanted it to be.
For starters, she was right about everything she told the Canadian High Commissioner to Zambia, Pamela O’Donnell regarding the effects of social media and the need to curb this vice. In support of the Minister, social media has indeed broken families to devastating effect. In certain cases, the callous have gone on to use this medium to peddle lies against the innocent. We live in interesting times indeed. It’s almost an accepted norm in this age that when somebody whips a lie so hard, it gradually morphs into a truth and this only happens on social media platforms. So, what recourse do victims of hate-filled chain messaging have when their reputation is unfairly soiled?
How do we curb social media?
Against everything the Minister said, the only thing absent were solutions on how this could be curbed. Do we go the Chinese route in which we can easily adopt a blanket ban on the vice or impose harsher punishment on those that peddle lies or hide under pseudonyms?
Borrowing a pay-offline from one of the world’s oldest but credible independent publications, the Washington Post, it reads, “In darkness, truth dies.” It’s thus tempting to speculate that the absence of truth creates fertile grounds for, lies, speculation or the spread of hate filled messaging. As goes an adage, lies have short legs. In fact, they have no hiding place as those that seek the truth will use all means necessary to uncover that which is hidden.
Take the case of the 48 houses without an owner, is it true that government does still not know who owns these properties? The absence of fact is the reason why deceptive politicians like Chishimba Kambwili are banding about conspiracy theories. He believes that by whipping the dog so hard and linking this potential scandal close to state house, the owner of the dog will finally show up.
And this is no different to the story of who owns land in Forest 27. Surely, why should it be left to social media platforms to scout for individuals who have bought land in this area? Unless there is something else, is it even a scandal for one to own land in a degazetted area? A bit more of objectivity, transparency and transformation in government owned media might just be a starting point towards curbing the ills of social media. How about starting with ZNBC, honorable Minister?
The author is an avid reader of political history and philosophy. He loves eating Nshima with game meat.