By Vusumuzi Sifile
One thing was very clear during the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2018: the unquestionable public appreciation of the role of the media in speaking truth to power, advancing good governance, transparency, accountability, justice and the rule of law. This was evident in the manner in which various stakeholders – from different sectors — came out in their numbers to join media practitioners in commemorating this day.
This year’s commemoration was under the theme Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law. This theme challenged the media to position itself to promote accountability and transparency in management of public resources, as well as advancing justice and the rule of law in southern Africa. It also challenged various stakeholders to accord the media its rightful position as the fourth estate in the democratic set-up. Marches, exhibitions, public lectures and other events were held in most parts of southern Africa to express solidarity with the media and amplify the call for press freedom in the region.
While such solidarity means a lot to the media fraternity, more needs to be done in order for the media to truly keep power in check and advance justice and the rule of law. On the eve of the World Press Freedom Day, a media colleague Kasebamashila Kaseba stated on a private TV station in Zambia that instead of the media keeping power in check, those in power are the ones who are keeping the media in check.
They determine what the media covers or does not cover. This has created an unpleasant situation where journalists and other media practitioners are forced into silence or censorship, only churning out content that will not get them into trouble with those keeping them in check.
Such a situation is not helpful to the media and to the public, which the media serves.
The support to the media sector must not be a “one hit wonder”. It must be a part of our daily routine. Each one of us has a role to play in supporting the media to keep power in check. The support can be in the form of data or information, funding, equipment, and other forms of support that can position the media to keep power in check. The limited technical and financial capacity of most media actors in the region puts them in a compromised position.
The following are some of the areas that we need to reflect on
There is an urgent need to address the barriers to the growth of a free, strong and independent media sector in southern Africa. Without it, keeping power in check will remain a pipedream in most cases.
Vusumuzi Sifile is the knowledge management and communications manager for Panos Institute Southern Africa, a regional communication for development organisation based in Lusaka. For feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.