Freedom of the press is something most Canadians take for granted – at least I did. Of course there are rules, i.e. you can’t write lies about people or organizations. But it is considered the job of the press to expose the truth to the public – especially truths about government and their actions that the government doesn’t want the public to know.
Zambian journalists who did just that in the last year often had to pay heavily for it, with beatings, arrests, or other forms of persecution. The government threatened to close certain newspaper offices. Now they have introduced a new media bill that has the media institutions fighting for their rights and lives.
A free press is a basic element of democracy as we know it. The public needs balanced information to be able to make the decisions required of the citizens of a democracy, to vote for the people that will be most likely to carry out their wishes, to be able to protest when things are not going the way they should, or when the welfare of the public is misused or neglected. This information comes from the press.
Today one of the Zambian papers quoted an opposition party leader as saying that Zambia is on the verge of becoming a totalitarian state (www.postzambia.com, Friday, January 08, 2010). This isn’t the first time I have read such remarks in the online papers. It disturbs me, especially as we have watched what a totalitarian state does next door in Zimbabwe. Zambia is a long way (I hope) from that state of affairs, but Zimbabwe didn’t become what it is overnight either.
I am impressed with the forthrightness of some Zambian journalists. They know it can be serious trouble for them, but they still fight for the right for people to know – still name the facts and the people involved. My hat is off to them – may their fight be victorious!
There are Zambians who say these journalists are only stirring up trouble. Others think that’s what they should be doing. I’m not in a position to comment either way. But I do believe that citizens need to hear both sides of a story. No one side ever has the full truth, it seems.
Enjoy your freedom, Canadian journalists! Take care of it; be responsible with what you write, but never take it for granted!