JOURNALISM has become a hazardous profession which has claimed many lives because dictatorial and repressive regimes in the world have continued to punish and gag the media to prevent journalists from performing their duties in a free atmosphere, former information Minister Vernon Mwaanga has said.
And United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema has said it is unacceptable that all media houses in Zambia are headed by one gender to the exclusion of the female gender.
Reflecting on the World Press Freedom Day which is being commemorated today, Dr Mwaanga, a veteran politician said the media has an important and critical role of informing, educating and entertaining citizens.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day’s theme is “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Safety in the Digital Age”. He said the media had inescapable duty to keep political and other leaders in check so that they do not fall into the temptation of abusing and misleading their citizens in any democracy.
Dr Mwaanga said in a statement yesterday that journalists had a professional duty to defend the interests of the people who were often times threatened by selfish, corrupt and insensitive leaders. He said it was unfortunate that journalists had become victims of brutality from politicians but advised that the media personnel should reject threats of closure or intimidation regardless of the cost they would suffer.
Dr Mwaanga said the press must objectively report and defend the integrity of the truth without fear or favour no matter how inconveniencing and irritating to the politicians. “I recognize that the media worldwide faces many challenges and threats from insensitive and dictatorial and repressive regimes which seek to gag, punish and prevent journalists from performing their duty in a free atmosphere.’’
Journalism has become a hazardous profession which has claimed many lives of journalists in areas of conflict around the world. The media is an important and critical instrument in informing, educating and entertaining citizens. It has an inescapable responsibility to keep political and other leaders in check so that they do not abuse and mislead their people in any democracy,” he said.
Dr Mwaanga said there were journalists who had either suffered injuries in the course of their duties while others had been imprisoned or facing trial for defending the integrity of the truth.
He stated that press freedom and democracy were inseparable allies which he said were like Siamese twins and the world must therefore support the journalists as they report the news truthfully and objectively.
“Without journalists, the world would be a dangerously ignorant world,” Dr Mwaanga said.
And Mr Hichilema has urged the media not to lose sight of the need for greater gender equality in the profession.
Mr Hichilema said it was regrettable that journalists struggle to break through into international media because the quality of work was limited by the constraints placed on them by the Government and their superiors.
He said the routine use of media for self-serving and personal battles presented a challenge that Zambians must overcome together.
Mr Hichilema said the first step must be a clear commitment from Government, opposition, civil society and business to non-interference and support for the professionalism and independence of journalists and editors.
He said supporting and enabling Zambian journalists to engage in good quality and independent journalism had never been more important.
Mr Hichilema observed that the growth of blogs and social media platforms was rapidly changing the media landscape.
He said growth of blogs and social media platforms had brought many positive results and rise in the level of hate speech on such forums.
Meanwhile, Mr Hichilema said a Government that was open, transparent and had the best intentions of its citizens at heart should have nothing to fear from an independent press, and should in fact welcome such channels as a healthy forum for debate, information sharing and exchange of opinions.
Mr Hichilema reminded the Patriotic Front (PF) Government that the press did not exist to serve their interests.
He observed that in recent years the incidence of journalists being intimidated by those that were supposed to protect them had become too common.
Mr Hichilema said even editors that value and protect the independence and journalistic integrity of their staff struggle to maintain their positions in the face of external pressure.