By GERSHOM NDHLOVU
“A lot of people are busy saying the MMD government is abusing ZNBC because ZNBC only covers the MMD government. Yes, ZNBC has to cover us because it shows government developmental projects...Even when Sata comes into power, ZNBC will be covering him alone. This time is our time. Those who want to be feeling bad about themselves when they wake up every day, they should be buying The Post newspapers because it always talks about negative things, saying things are bad in the country when the economy is doing well...”
Dora Siliya, Education Minister and former journalist is quoted by the Post as saying in defence of the dismal performance of state-owned and controlled media.
The view that state-owned media is supposed to toe the government, and worse, the ruling party's line is one I have often heard from government officials and, surprisingly, some journalists working for the Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation. It appears to me, however, that the people purveying such a despicable view have very little understanding of the history of Zambia's media.
Equally puzzling is Siliya's position on the matter. She is one person who should know better as a University of Zambia Mass Communication graduate who should have read the media history in her first, or is it second, year of study.
Talking about the the history of Zambia, I must hasten to say that it is aptly captured in late Francis P Kasoma's seminal book, The Press in Zambia. It captures the development of the media in Zambia from 1900 up to about 1980. Nowhere in it does it say that state-owned media was created to portray government's development projects or, indeed, government's views on issues.
Sadly, state-owned media has been reduced to the ruling MMD's public relations unit. Anyway, first things first, I will not discuss the history of broadcasting, neither will I discuss the privately-owned press represented by the Post which was born in 1991.
The Zambia Daily Mail was the first newspaper the UNIP government acquired in c1969 from Dr Alexander Scott, father of politician and Patriotic Front (PF) vice president Dr Guy Scott. The weekly African Mail as it was known and started in the late 1950s tended to portray the views of freedom fighters fighting for Zambia's independence. Some of the early journalists to have emerged on this paper were Kelvin Mlenga and Bill Saidi.
The Mail transformed into the Zambia Daily Mail around 1970. Along the way it introduced the Financial Mail (1990/1) and the Sunday Mail (1992) to its portfolio of newspapers. For some reason, the Financial Mail was discontinued but the Sunday Mail, the paper I joined as a Senior Reporter in 1992 has continued as a flagship of the company.
I must say that during my time at the Zambia Daily Mail, both papers were quite critical in their reportage and feature writing. Some of the critical journalists to have walked the corridors of the Zambia Daily Mail in recent times include the late Jowie Mwiinga, late Moses Mbewe and late Nigel Mulenga, an uncompromising lot when it came to journalism principles.
As for the Times of Zambia, its history goes back to a bit earlier than that of the Mail. It was started as the Northern News under Lonrho and it was pro-colonial in its outlook serving mostly the white community on the Copperbelt. It was later to change to the Times of Zambia. Government acquired the paper in 1974.
Vernon Mwaanga served at the paper as editor-in-chief around 1972 and 1974. Even though he was appointed by President Kaunda to serve at the newspaper from the diplomatic service, he was surprisingly one of the most liberal editors who allowed journalists express themselves to the full. Actually, the outlook of the Times never changed much from the Vernon he took over from.
Mwaanga took over from Vernon Wright who was deported by the Kaunda administration after some misunderstanding between them. One strange phenomenon is that at some point, even though the Times was privately-owned, Kaunda got to appoint editors-in-chief.
Even then, the Times produced some great journalists among them the late Patu Simoko, the late Bandawe Banda, the late Desmond Mubiana, Arthur Simuchoba and even the iconic “Kapelwa Musonda”, a satire-columnist who wrote under a pseudonym.
In the current environment of fear of loss of jobs in which the ruling MMD has usurped the operations of state-owned media, the journalists I have mentioned above could not have done their jobs as they did. I suppose not even the Zambia Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU) and its leadership led by the late Frederick Chiluba who went on to become Zambia's second republican president, could not have been covered as to be known and become a factor in Zambian politics.
Because both the Daily Mail and the Times were not quite the papers they are being made to be by the MMD government, both UNIP in government at the time and the MMD in its first days in government, ran their own newspapers which were short-lived. UNIP started the Eagle and the MMD the Herald (if I get the name right).
Things for the Zambia media started going pear-shaped in 1999-2000 when Chiluba started hankering for an unconstitutional third term. Unfortunately, there was a lot of money being thrown around to journalists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to skew people's views in support of the political manouvre. Incidentally, this unprecedented hold on the media by a government and a ruling party has continued just over a decade later.
The media under Kaunda was very critical considering that there was only one party in power and constitutionally, no other party was allowed to exist alongside UNIP. Journalists, between 1979 and 1980, even defeated government's moves to introduce a Press Council Bill that was going to let government control the practice of journalism in Zambia. I am sure the current generation would have allowed themselves to be roughshod.