By Chimwemwe Mwanza
Lawyers subscribe to an ethical code of conduct to which those in breach are stripped of their practicing licence. Fact is, there are punitive consequences for breaching ethics of this profession.
Likewise, accountants, engineers, doctors, pilots including other profession’s conduct is regulated by a set of ethics structured by respective statutory bodies. While most of these trades require graduates to obtain accreditation or at least a practicing licence for career advancement and other opportunities, Journalists aren’t required to.
In this era of rapidly improving technology, opportunists are having a free reign on Twitter, Facebook, and other digital platforms. Anybody with the ability to stitch together a sentence or two can easily appropriate to themselves a fancy title and peddle information in the name of Journalism. Indeed, the profession has provided social media gun slingers a free ride to fame much to the chagrin of thoroughbreds.
Does this trend then debunk the notion that one does not require an academic qualification or accreditation to partake in national discourse? Respected American author, Frederick DeBoer is candid about this view. He argues that academic intelligence is absurdly overvalued – in essence discounting the notion that one’s academic leaning or field of interest shouldn’t be a pre-requisite to participating in political or social discourse. Simply put: Academic credentials are overrated.
Whether his view is correct or not is debatable but what is notable is that the advent of social media and an emerging plethora of communication platforms, has led to a moral erosion to some of the core tenets of Journalism. Some of the fiction, hearsay and inuendo peddled on various communication platforms barely pass the test of truth.
Disappointingly, the fact that information shared is often misleading or lacking in credibility is inconsequential to peddlers. All that matters to their falsities is their objective which many a times border on creating fame for themselves or impugning on the character of their target. This in part is the reason for the rise in fake news. It is troubling that this has also contributed to fomenting a much bigger crisis of credibility of information in general. Suffice to add that this situation is not only unique to Zambia but the world over.
Hence this discussion. Let us be clear from the outset. In no way is this meant to insinuate that social or political discourse, news reporting or critical thinking should be a preserve of trained Journalists or academics – far from it. To the contrary, this discussion acknowledges and in good measure the fact that some of Zambia’s far-most critical thinkers and persons of influence in social discourse are in fact non-practising Journalists.
In this aspect, a few but critical examples come to mind. Drawn from cross sections of society, it is their voices, tenacity, and scholarly writing that helped to galvanise a grassroot revolt against the late President Frederick Chiluba’s bid for a third term. And most recently it is this grouping acting in concert with other political formations that fought against the previous regime’s determination to adopt the infamous draft Bill 10.
To be precise, the likes of State Counsel (SC) John Sangwa, Linda Kasonde, Laura Miti, Dr Field Ruwe, Professors Muna Ndulo and Henry Kyambalesa and Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa among others are not trained Journalists per-se yet their thought-provoking writing has not only enriched Zambia’s intellectual depth but has helped to provide critical checks and balances to respective governments of the day.
While sometimes opinionated, theirs have been arguments anchored mainly on impartiality, research, and fact. And these attributes speak to credibility which is core to ethics of this profession. Further afield, some of the best cultural and social commentators such as David Graeber, Linda Yew, Daniel Miller, and Gillian Tett among others are not trained Journalists but are anthropologists. Yet their adherence to Journalism ethics is outstanding.
Ethics and code of conduct
A schedule for a Presidential Press briefing to announce a new cabinet is released to an anxious public. Hours later, the Presidency dismisses this as fake news. Then, a list of cabinet appointees is deliberately leaked to the public only for the ruling party to dismiss it as a product of wishful thinking. Later, an allegation lacking in substantiation is then made to the effect that nearly 50% of the newly appointed cabinet ministers have skeletons in their cabinet, yet there aren’t any punitive consequences to the author. Isn’t this a case of free speech or media freedom stretched too far?
But such is the lay of our Journalism landscape, it is deeply nauseating. Yet, any well-meaning Journalist should have little difficulty to adhering to ethics of the profession. The unwritten but important Journalism rule is you do not spread false information or cause unnecessary alarm. Anything unverifiable or lacking in credibility is not worthy of distribution. The underlying message here being, think again before sending that chain mail containing fake news.
Further to this, Journalists don’t drown dissenting views with slurs or epithets. In other ways, you don’t play the man but the ball. These among several unwritten ethics are breached on daily basis much to the detriment of the profession.
Rise in social media mobs
It is thus fair to suggest that the rise of a repressive regime that had been intolerant to opposing political views has contributed to the erosion of the quality of our discourse. Yes, it is acceptable for one to be a thorn in the flesh of a regime or becoming a concerned citizen on grave matters affecting the country, but it shouldn’t be easy for propagandists to rent well-funded social media mobs whose objective is to intimidate those with views divergent to their political formations.
It is shameful that one can keep re-inventing themselves under different pseudonyms merely to discouraging opposing views. No pun intended, but fact is fact that the transition from being a chief propagandist to becoming a back bencher certainly hurts but what we must all accept is that there had to be only one winner of the just ended elections. Off course, the lesson here – including to sympathisers of the current regime – being that an uncritical backing of the government of the day by a pedestrian society can be detrimental to democracy yet those tasked with the onus of providing checks and balances must do so responsibly.
As recently explained and meticulously so by SC John Sangwa, President Hichilema has already breached the constitution barely a month into office. Can somebody prove Sangwa wrong please?
The author is an avid scholar of political history and philosophy. He has since stopped eating game meat and become a vegetarian. The only thing he supports is Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool. For feedback, contact [email protected]