A Rebuttal On “Shakapwasha’s Dogs” – Another View

By Dr. Kaela B Mulenga

Caution: Unless you have read Malama Katulwende’s (MK) article which appeared on UKZambians of November 6, 2010, you will not capture the essence of this piece.

Dr. Kaela B Mulenga

In principle, I do agree with the analysis provided by Katulwende about Zambian PUBLIC  MEDIA in the sense of:  — Them being biased; that there is lack of balanced reporting; poor dissemination of the information public needs for making informed decisions; and them failing to live up to their mandate as is stipulated in the Information Act.

It is also obvious that – the current public media is indeed a propaganda machinery for the Government, á la Goebbels. Therefore, in the spreading of information sense – the post-1991 MMD period is not much different to the UNIP days.

I don’t know if people recall, that UNIP had a Goebbels-like position in the name of late Dr. Henry Matipa, who was a brilliant graduate from the Germany system. Matipa was a Minister of State responsible for Cultural Affairs, who had to do an hour to two radio broadcasts every week. These broadcasts were nothing but propaganda material for UNIP and its Govt. [Do research on him]. For a newly minted nation, probably there was some merit in what they were doing.

Now here is the challenge we all must face. By Malama Katulwende saying very little about the independent/private media {The Post, Monitor and others some which have folded} – it gives one an impression that they’re doing a better job than the public media. Really?

Here is what I think happened. First, the private media, naturally led by The Post, has done well in trying to speak on behalf of the masses – especially when it comes to holding government accountable. Certainly it has acted as a better opposition to all things ordinary people consider to be wrong – human rights, poor governance, poverty, etc.  That is as far as we can go.

But just like its public counterparts, they too (independent media) have failed to raise awareness – so that the public can, by itself, have the courage to put government in check. An example of what we need is what has happened in Mid-term elections in USA, where a bunch of erratic Tea Party cadres literally check-mated President Barack Obama. This is what I call awareness, when the public or a portion thereof acts to protect its own interests. One would have thought that our suffering masses could boil up in a similar fashion. Why can’t they? It is because they do not know their rights.

If The Post and other private media had succeeded in being an effective awareness tool – they could at least be able to influence the public so that they can vote out of office, the bad apples. But they can’t or haven’t been able to. This means that they’re also incapable. Thus, just as the public media is being blamed for having failed us in advancing democracy and good governance – so are the independent media. I do not anticipate any substantial changes in this scenario for the 2011 elections. I don’t know if Katulwende has a comment on this one.

Further, MK grossly accuses the public media as being a bunch of “yes men” or zombies – who just follow parrotically what the boss (Pres) says. Hence, the coining of his ‘Phirisian Analogy’. What about the independent media? Don’t they likewise also do what their bosses instruct? In their case it would be the Board Rooms and/or sponsors who would be calling shots. For example, I see Fred Meembe (FM) calling shots all the way. I understand that any opinion which Meembe does not like or agree with, gets blocked. They also say that, if Meembe hates you (especially the government people or politicians); he wages a war against you using The Post. This is a misuse of powers invested in him as journalist.

Indeed, in order to please the share holders, the private media tend to look for sensational news and stories. – for they want many people to buy their papers. Is independent media then any better than their public cousins? I don’t think so.

In the case of The Post, by slipping away from ‘objectivity’, when say they back up opposition parties – it loses its power of being hundred percent (100%) a spokesman for the ordinary people. As they get carried out in the desire for hunting for popularity, they miss the point. A symptom that my assessment is correct – consider instances when Post backs up a candidate during a by-election. Do all those candidates they support end up scooping the seats? Not necessarily. But they should, IF the Post’s estimation of peoples’ mood was correct.

That is, there is a deficit somewhere, even if we cannot hold the private media to the same test when it comes to opinion polling, as Gallop polling companies. The collorary of what I am saying is that – if the Post’s opinion assessment does indeed match the public one, it should then be easy to shake off government pomposity. As it is now nobody dares oppose government with any meaningful results. For example, currently MMD government is going ahead to implement the removal of Pres Mwanawasa’s ‘anti-corruption’ clause without any fears of any repercussion from the public whatsoever.

So where is a savior when the public needs it?

Finally, The Post should be held responsible for, either single-handedly or in association with other forces, for destroying the office of the Presidency. In Post’s pursuit of the hatred for Fredrick Chiluba (FTJ) along the way, they belittled the office of the Presidency itself. Specifically, the Post failed to separate Chiluba as a holder of the office from the office itself, which happens to be the top sovereignty seat for the entire country. In fact the Post enjoyed and still enjoys having a field day at caricaturing or ridiculing the Office of the Presidency. What they did in trashing Chiluba’s name still continues but now against Rupiah Banda.

You see, when you neutralize the powers of the Presidency completely, you also effectively kill the tool for controlling anarchy. After that, not only that the country becomes vulnerable to a take over by foreign powers – it also creates a situation whereby elements like William Banda emerge, with political cadres also wielding power to even a level where the Police and other authorities become irrelevant. Moreover, the apathy we are experiencing also comes out of this.

Because Fred Meembe wants to be famous, sometimes even at the expense of national interests – he doesn’t seem to care. Therefore, just as the Post blames those Zambians who take bribes and are corrupt, in another prism, it also facilitates donor lashing. We know that when the Post wages a campaign against government, donors find it easy to advance their agenda.

This is why myself, I judge Meembe’s actions as only being courageous because he wants to be credited as the bravest Zambian to fight the powerful presidency. Donors and other foreign interests like that since this works in their favor. Some of these applaud him not because his agenda is going to improve governance but rather motivated by private interests. In comparison to the past – while missionaries preceded the colonialist, donors are the advance party for the systematic technological looters.

Thus, according to me – Malama’s picture is somehow incomplete or it is at least biased. Hopefully MK can come up also with a more truthful and balanced analysis of both the roles of both the public and independent media. For transparency sake, I decided to make these comments openly instead of a personal exchange between me and Katulwende. Feedback is always appreciated.

Toronto, November 8, 2010

Kaela B Mulenga

6 comments

  1. Matipa

    Comparing Henry Matipa with Goebbels is insanity! Do you even know who Goebbels is? Stop writing about things you don’t understand!

  2. Jsakhar

    In Zambia, ‘Independent’ media is a fallacy. The public and private media are both at the extreme ends of the spectrum, both bowing to the dictates of their masters. Malama Katulwende is well aware that The Post Newspapers for example, have an agenda to exclusively promote the Patriotic Front, an opposition political party. Not that it is bad, but that they have done that to the exclusion of other political parties, most notably the UPND who are the Pact partners for the PF. If Malama is suggesting that The Post ‘behave’ better, then he blinkered by his support for the PF.

  3. Pandawe

    Excellent article, but please allow me to digress a little and make a wider point about free expression in all Zambian owned media. What are UKZambians going to do if there is strong public comdemination of this article…CLOSE DOWN COMMENTS PAGE!!??( I refer to recent lady C article) What does that tell us about respect for free expression and objectivity of the Zambian media?

    I suspect that true democratic values or librealism does not sit easily with most Zambian media wether in the diaspora or back home. Surerly , mordern Zambian media such as UKzambians witha a fairly sofitiscated audience should be at the forefront of FREE speech and tolarance… not shut down debates just because a few misguided souls choose to make personal disperaging remarks about the collumist.

    Mr Mulenga, I do apologise for not commeting on specifics raised in your piece, but I feel strongly about FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION EVERYWHERE and I hope you can see my point.

    Thank you.

  4. Abakalambabakalamba

    Interesting article but i feel u should have suggested solutions to the problems u have raised so that the public and private media should have a way to follow.

  5. Mwata Chisha

    A well written analysis. Indeed The Post has sent its objectivity on vacation. You have spoken of the role of public media in the way most MMD die-hards would not like. As if two dailies were not enough, State house has a website where some MMD zealot posts demagoguery. it seems everybody is out for themselves and there is nobody for the general munthus. What is everyone trying to hide by talking up?

  6. malama katulwende

    Dr Kaela:
    Thx for the feedback. This is as it should be. However, like I said in our private exchange, the objective of my writing “Shikapwasha’s Dogs: Why the Public media in Zambia has Lost The People’s trust” was to give credence to Mumbi Phiri’s remarks. Had I diverted to discuss the private media at some length, it might have disproportionate to the body of what I have set out to do.
    Just to keep the record: When I interviewed Chansa Kabwela (refer to our last print mag) I asked her – some critics think the media in Zambia is polarized. I know that the private media does commit some excesses, too…But in discussing anything at all, you focus – which was what I did.

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