The Muckracker

Truth v. Objectivity – The case of The Post
 by mazuba mwiinga

Tell the truth, nothing else but the truth, so help me my sources. Brilliant is it? Tell the truth because only the truth shall set you free; another trite banner; trite and dangerous because so often, the truth can incarcerate you.

Truth whether tangible or not, no knows no boundaries. Whether hidden or tattered, it knows no shape because in it lies one core feature; the truth. And this is the base of all journalism. To tell the truth nothing else but the truth at all times and at all cost. At least that’s what our journalism textbooks demand of us to do.

But can the truth be told at the expense of objectivity? Can the truth alone vindicate me from the sores of being dishonest? Telling the truth as a journalist is one thing, and writing an objective story is another; and this is the challenge scribes have in this year’s general elections in Zambia.

This country has a smart journalistic history. Evelyn Hone College used to be a regional journalism trainer catering countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi. The fruits that came from here were sweeter than the college structures themselves.

The country is also endowed with such highly skilled and talented scribes, but what pokes my mind today is why these men and women of letters subscribe to principles they never came out with from their training.

I for one, young as I may be, have been around in the circles of pen-pushing. During the advent of a return of Multi-Partism in the 1990s, media pluralism which was a chicken’s horn before, was revitalised by the forming of the then Weekly Post newspaper, officially launched in July, 1991.

There was no better thing than having a copy of a newspaper full of sense, hope, humour, hard and fast news stories, under cover well researched investigative pieces, hot columns and objective editorials. The 90s were a time when we felt real journalism at play; to the level of America’s Washington Post, New York Times, you name it. The 90s saw the Weekly Post win numerous international awards, not just for its courage and resilience but, also for its objectivity in its reportage.

Today, I sit back; take a copy of the now The Post, and shudder with wonder. I don’t need anyone to tell me that something wrong has evaded the The Post newsroom or editorial policy. I have gone back to its website, but every time I do so, I still find the same editorial principle on which the Weekly Post was founded, is the one still being used even today. Then I ask myself; what is the matter then?

Does The Post publish truthful stories? This I have no doubt, yes it does. But why then should I be so concerned with them? Reason, they have betrayed what they started. They have sidelined the core principle of journalism – objectivity and toll the line of yellow journalism. This is the kind of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism; treating news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.

Check the word objectivity from any aspect of use and you will still find one core stand – being uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices with your reporting; In simple lay man’s understanding; having a story with two or more views over an issue. If you have an accuser, let the accused have a right to reply in the same story or don’t publish it. Subjectivity; the opposite of objectivity, is having a one sided story.

In more detail, objectivity is having a story that is fair, disinterested, factual, and non-partisan. An objective media will not show which political party it stands for; or which politician it prefers. An objective media, brings as much information as it can lay its hands on about all the political players of the nation; analysing them truthfully, factually and objectively for the people to judge for themselves. An objective media does not suggest to the people which political party is better or which politician is good; because an objective media’s role in political matters is objectivity which is synonymous with neutrality.

The media sets an agenda for the people and that agenda must be objective; that’s to mean it must use a method of acquiring knowledge by reasoning, only based on the facts of reality and in accordance with the laws of logic.

The Post of the 90s is a pure shadow of its current image. The millennium came with a totally ‘chameleoned’ Post whose duty today is to act as a PR flyer for politicians it once castigated in full-paged objective editorials; today its either George Mpombo or Micheal Sata on its front page banner. There is nothing wrong off course to write about them; but the stories are long pieces of prose without any substance to call news. This is laziness and lack of creativity and resourcefulness on the part of the newsroom staff. The Post today has stood as a catalogue for swangwapo and not as a 90s reliable source of information. What went wrong?

Reporting the truth of what someone said is not journalism at all. Anyone, even a grade 7 pupil can write a composition based on facts. We go for journalism schools to learn the tricks of the trade; how to dig out that which is hidden and report it as it is. That’s what happened during the 90s; the time of Jowie Mwiinga, Matsauso Phiri, Joe Chilaizya, Goodson Machona, Birght Mwape, Sheike Chifuwe, Sam Mujuda, Mukalya Nampito, Lucy Sichone, Kunda Mwila, Joe Kaunda, the real Fred Mmembe then and many other behind the scene staff. Today The Post is as good as reading the Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia or watching ZNBC. Where is the paper that digs deeper?

In my training I was taught that you cannot write an editorial based on a story that you haven’t published, or on a story that is not headline story. But The Post has ignored the rules of the game. Sata headlines the paper, but an editorial, talks about something else, meaning the issue in the editorial is the one which is important, and hence deserved to be the Paper’s top story. Putting a different top story other than the one highlighted in the editorial means, the top story is just an advert to sway popular opinion and that is not acceptable in journalism.

Reporting the truth and yet lacking objectivity is the same as telling a half truth; and telling a half truth we are often told, is actually as good as telling a whole lie.

No comments:

Post a Comment