IT is undeniable that a free, objective and skilled media is an essential component of any democratic society.
It is common knowledge that in a vibrant democracy like Zambia, the media – be it public or private – assumes the role of an invaluable arm of society.
The media is one of the key stakeholders expected to play an important role to promote free, fair and credible elections this year.
According to the Code of Conduct of the Electoral Process Act Number 35 of 2016, the print and electronic media shall provide fair and balanced reporting of campaigns, policies, meetings, rallies and Press conferences of all registered political parties and candidates during the campaign period.
The code further states that public television and radio stations shall allocate air time equally to all political parties and candidates for their political broadcasts.
It further provides that the media should report on elections in an accurate manner and avoid making any abusive editorial comment or incite violence or advocate hatred based on race, ethnicity, tribe,
gender, sex, political or religious conviction.
It is also required of the media to separate an editorial comment, like this one, from the factual reporting of the election news.
In this regard, it is cardinal that the media should avoid biased reporting and provide a level playing field among all participating political players.
All eyes are on the media to promote trustworthy elections through ethical and responsible reporting ahead of August 12 general election.
Sadly, some sections of the media have so far been violating the guidelines in the Electoral Code of Conduct.
According to a report released yesterday in Lusaka by the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia Chapter, 76 per cent of the 1,152 stories surveyed from an audience of 500 consumers were not balanced.
The report, which covers a period March to May this year, further states that only seven per cent of the stories represented the voices of ordinary people.
This is unfortunate and it is our hope that the named media houses will use the report to improve in their reporting as political campaigns continue across the country.
The media must provide a platform for a variety of opinions, analysis and interaction between the electorate and those seeking public office without any preferential treatment on particular candidates.
We also agree with MISA recommendation on the need for media houses to focus more on advancing issue-based electoral agenda as opposed to personality stories in their election coverage.
The media must also deliberately cover the voices of marginalised groups such as women, youths and the differently-abled in their electoral stories so that no one is left behind.
We also appeal to media practitioners not to be compromised by political parties and candidates through bribery or “blalizo” in exchange for positive (tilted) news coverage.
It is wrong professionally for a journalist or media practitioner to be inclined to a political party or fall for political patronage.
Definitely the report gives an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our performance in these areas.
We are doing exactly that!