Thursday, April 17, 2008
Thursday April 17, 2008 [04:00]
We think it is part of the democratic process that our members of parliament and other politicians can take vigorous issue with the media when they regard it as appropriate without that in any way implying a right on their part to infringe on the freedom of the media. But it is frightening for a member of parliament to suggest that if he had a way he would close down all community radio stations because they have massacred the profession of broadcasting in Zambia and their output left much to be desired.
But as Nelson Mandela once observed, “none of our irritations with the perceived inadequacies of the media should ever allow us to even suggest faintly that the independence of the press could be compromised or coerced”.
No one can deny that there are a lot of deficiencies with our media, especially our community radio stations. And it is equally true that community radio producers and presenters have little knowledge about their work. But what is the cure for this lack of knowledge about their work? It is certainly not to close them.
Little knowledge about anything is only cured by providing more knowledge, more information – it is cured by training. The broadcasters in our community radio stations lack the necessary broadcasting training and in some cases don’t have sufficient levels of education.
And the question is: who is supposed to train them and equip them with the necessary skills required for them to do their job efficiently? Everyone has got a role to play in the training of our community radio broadcasters. But is everyone playing their role?
Not all are playing their role. Our members of parliament and other politicians have done very little, if not nothing, to help raise the broadcasting standards of our community radio stations by helping to mobilize resources for their training.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that most of our community radio stations run on shoestring budgets. This means they are not capable of employing and retaining journalists with college or university education or training.
This leaves untrained people, with limited educational levels to run our community radio stations. And a person can only give what they have, no more. If a little education is all they have, that is what we should expect them to give in their work.
So far the training of community radio station broadcasters had been left primarily to MISA Zambia, and in some respects to the Press Freedom Committee of The Post.
We would like to see more and more of our members of parliament and other politicians join in mobilising resources for the training of staff in our community radio stations.
We shouldn’t also lose sight of the fact that none of our community radio stations is making enough money to be able to hire broadcasters of the Mwansa Kapeya calibre and experience.
They have very limited resources; theirs are not profitable undertakings – at least for now. They depend on subsidies from well-wishers and other sponsors. And this is not strange in a country where the great majority of the media survives on subsidies and handouts of one form or another.
If we have problems in terms of quality of work and other professional aspects with the established national media, what more with small, fragile, extremely under-resourced community radio stations?
It is good to recognise and acknowledge the deficiencies and inadequacies of our community radio stations but things should not end here.
Those who are critical of the situation, those who are not happy with the operations of our community radio stations should go further and find ways of overcoming these problems. Our members of parliament can do more for our community radio stations than just to simply harangue them.
They seem to be more concerned with the criticisms and other bashings against them that emanate from these community radio stations than with the help they can render them to improve their standards.
Yes, there are some members of parliament like Honourable Kapeya who know something about broadcasting but the majority know nothing. It would be good if Honourable Kapeya used a bit of his time – if a bit is all he has - to help train some of our community radio broadcasters than wishing he had powers to close them.
What would it profit him or the nation to close all our community radio stations because of their deficiencies or inadequacies? We don’t think this would be the best way to deal with this serious problem. Such type of annihilism is not going to benefit anyone. Let’s give our community radio stations a chance – and the support they need – to develop.
It takes time to acquire certain skills and the necessary experience. Our community radio stations are very young; they are a very recent addition to our media. Even for us, The Post, if the Zambian people were not very patient with us, we wouldn’t have developed to this level today; we would have been closed soon after we had launched.
But now with more and more training, exposure and experience, we can handle many issues competently although we still have a lot to learn. Even in Honourable Kapeya’s time at ZNBC, he can’t claim that all that he did there was perfect. Although he was a good broadcaster, there were still many deficiencies and inadequacies in his work which he needed to overcome. The quest for self-perfection never ends.
We can’t wait until we have very competent people with many years of experience for us to start community radio stations. We have to start with what we have and continue to improve on that.
As for the issue of members of parliament joining the boards of community radio stations, there is generally nothing wrong with that as a matter of principle.
However, there are dangers that may arise depending on the motives of such politicians being part of the boards of community radio stations. If their intentions are to influence things in such a way that they get the maximum and most favourable coverage, then there is a serious problem and their membership of such boards may not be desirable.
But this is not something that should be legislated. Each community radio station should be organised in a manner best suited to it and for it to achieve its most legitimate objectives.
If all this sounds too abstract, let us then say it in simpler terms.
We would hope that our community radio stations – like all our other media - develop greater professional integrity and responsibility, be critical guardians of democracy and freedom in the communities they serve, but they must respect their audiences, the targets of their criticism and broadcasts, but above all else their own integrity as social institutions.
How the forces of democratic governance and the media interact is the challenge we face and have to work through as a continuing and dynamic process in our efforts to advance democracy in our country. There is an old saying that freedom and order are constantly in tension with one another in society. Order without freedom leads to totalitarianism.
Freedom without order leads to anarchy. It is also said that societies recover quicker and more healthily from too much freedom than they do from totalitarianism. Mandela once said: “A bad free press is preferable to a technically good subservient press.”
Therefore, the role of community radio stations in sustaining the democratic efforts in our country should be well understood, appreciated, tolerated and supported by all our members of parliament and other politicians, and indeed by all our people.