Sep 5, 2012

More irresponsible press

Over the weekend it was announced on local television that a terrorist group called “Tongas under Oath” had sent a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs and the Police Inspector General announcing that they were a group representing the Tonga people of Zambia’s southern province and had the following demands:


1.    That all Bemba speaking people living in the province leave immediately or face death like three unfortunate compatriots who they claimed to have recently killed
2.    That the districts of Chirundu and Itezhi-Tezhi be realigned with Southern province (as they were recently moved to fall under Lusaka province).

The part that grabbed most of our attention was the first point – the immediate self-removal of Bembas or face the prospect of death by poisoning. The desired effect was immediately felt when folks with a penchant for shooting their mouths off on Facebook did so by demanding the government send the military to crush the so-called rebellion.

On Monday morning state-run newspapers also ran the story further fuelling debate on the issue. People wanted to know who was behind this terrorist group threatening the peace and security of our nation by sowing seeds of ethnic hatred.

Now, one of the first things that struck me as odd about this story from the very beginning was the source of the purported letter – the Ministry of Home Affairs. It seemed rather reckless that they would choose to share this letter with the state-run broadcaster before the country’s security wings had the opportunity to launch an investigation. Furthermore, the language attributed to the authors was too phony. Why would a terrorist group make available their mailing address? And what kind of poison were they using on their victims that led to the claim that they “would die sooner or later.” This was all amateurish indeed.

I was extremely disappointed that the news editors of Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail chose to print a story that was completely single sourced. They didn’t fact check a single aspect of what was contained in that letter. They have followed this up by printing updates from Zambia Police spokesperson who reports “they are making progress” in tracking down the perpetrators. If it wasn’t a sad indictment on the inefficiencies rampant in our public institutions I would laugh and keep moving.

However, when it’s an issue that has the potential to raise the ugly spectre of xenophobia, it’s no laughing matter. And shame on those trying to capitalise on people’s fears and prejudices. Thank goodness there have been many sensible voices that have raised the same concerns I have, and refuse to get caught up in this poor ploy.

We need to remain vigilant. Pity our media houses make this work even harder by allowing themselves to be pawns as opposed to being agents of truth. 

3 comments:

Irresponsible on the part of the Zambian media. They should be careful not to fan ethnic hatred.

This is indeed irresponsible especially when you consider the role that media have had in sowing mistrust & hatred in other situations. As Zambians we cannot afford to sit back and let such behaviour go without mention. They must be called out and made to walk back unsubstantiated reports such as this.

That is very irresponsible indeed. There are issues like this everywhere in terms of not getting enough sources or verifying sources, but at least in Canada you usually see the worst offenders like that online. I hope that things are cleared up soon with no loss of life or property.

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