Ethical reporting in Zambia - a Charade
 by mazuba mwiinga

Are you asking what a Journalist’s Codes are? Forget it! You won’t find them under our beds, or in our lockers or drawers. Not even in our ink from our pens or in our note books or micro-phones.

A doctor, lawyer and accountant must pass exams to be licensed, and they have regulatory bodies to enforce proper conduct. Journalism does not. Why? It’s the name of the game my brother. We call it free press. The power to license or regulate us is the power to censor. And I tell you, we hate censorship.

So as free a people as we claim to be, should we ride our horses any how, anywhere?

Look at a medical doctor who prescribes an illegal medicine; he could lose his license. A lawyer who misleads a client, or an accountant who knowingly misrepresents a company's financial statement, may be guilty of violating a code of ethics. But me a journalist who poses as a policeman to get private phone records may win a Pulitzer Prize award. What an exciting career!

This isn’t fun; but that’s the reality of things as they fly. This year’s local theme for World Press Freedom day celebrations in Zambia was “Ethical Reporting, for a free and peaceful electoral process”. How catchy! But how do I report ethically when I do not have a principle that guides me to behave in some acceptable way?

Let’s face it and shame some fool pretenders guys. Two of the defining characteristics of a profession are its mandatory code of behaviour and the enforcement of that code. Journalism has neither. You become a journalist when you declare that you are one, and you remain one as long as you keep declaring it. Period! As the old adage goes; print it and let the reader be damned!

Journalists may feel responsible to the public, but thats a lie because we are not responsible to the public. Our readers do not elect us and cannot fire us. The government does not license us or set standards for behaviour for us. We are not responsible to other journalists either. We are responsible only to ourselves and our employers. That’s why we say that we are self-regulated!

Have you heard of the phrase; "swampland where eerie mists of judgment hang low over a boggy terrain." That’s the reason newspaper work has been described that way. So when you read your favourite daily and you find stories just supporting one political candidate, don’t get fussed up because that’s how it works; this theme is just a mist shadow to blind you from seeing the clear picture of what happens behind the editorial room.

To serve its face and stand strong protecting its power, the State was very clever. It sat quietly and peacefully with its trickery mind and we were amused it’s spending so much tax payers’ money and we allowed it to come up with a Statute Criminal Code. To our ignorance it indirectly regulated journalism. According to the Penal Code, Section 53, if in the opinion of the President, a publication is bad in the so called public interest, the President has powers to ban it and free press tag claimed by the journalist will not serve the publication from collapse.

Section 67 of the Penal Code warns the journalist from reporting what is called false news in which case a journalist if convicted of publishing false news with intent to cause public alarm can be jailed for a minimum of three years. Where is the free press for us? And if the journalist defames the President section 69 of the Penal Code will allow for the conviction of the journalist for a minimum of three years; and you call this career un-regulated? If a journalist published what is termed as seditious material section 61 of the Penal Code will take him to jail as well.

But what happens in the newsroom is different from what happens in the editorial room. In the newsroom, there are placards on walls displaying hard and fast rules for a real journalist:

Seek truth and report it fully; inform yourself continually. Be honest, fair and courageous in gathering and reporting the news. Give voice to the voiceless, and hold the powerful accountable. Seek out and disseminate competing perspectives without being unduly influenced by those who would use their power counter to public interest. Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise your integrity or damage your credibility.

Minimize harm. Be compassionate of those affected by your actions. Treat sources, subjects and colleagues with respect, not as means to an end. Do not lie, pose or misrepresent yourself. Don't report on any group or organization to which you belong. Avoid active involvement in partisan causes, politics, community affairs, social actions or demonstrations.

Don't write about someone related by blood or marriage, or someone with whom you have a personal or financial relationship. Don't use your position to seek benefit or advantage in business, financial or commercial transactions. Don't take freebies.

All this is total nonsense because no one journalist seems to learn to adhere to it. For what anyway, when one knows the moment the story reaches the Editor-in-chief it is no-longer the truth but some damn ‘self-regulated’ opinions to suit the editorial policy and not the matter-of-fact? Free and peaceful electoral process through ethical reporting – over my dead body! Not in Zambia.

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