Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another lively day at the Zambia Daily Mail

I spent most of the day at the Zambia Daily Mail, talking with editors, reporters and the staff photographer, who was among journalists assaulted today by relatives and other supporters of a former national official who was charged with receiving stolen property after cash worth more than $400,000 was found buried on his property. Mackson Wasamunu wasn't hurt, but a staffer from the Times of Zambia reportedly suffered a cut on the hand. Wasamunu said it wasn't the first time he had been assaulted by people trying to thwart news coverage.

It was another lively day at the Mail, which has become livelier newspaper since new management took over in October following the elections that gave the government to the longtime opposition party. The paper is one of two owned by the government, which nationalized them in 1972, but from time to time it has published articles critical of government officials. That has become more frequent since the September election, but editors told me the run-up to the election was difficult. One said, "In the last three years we experienced unprecdented interference. . . . There was massive interference with Page 1, Page 2, Page 3."

Since then, editors said, there has been no such interference. New President Michael Sata has said he wants to privatize the newspapers, but there are many questions about how that would be done. The Mail's own website acknowledges it lacks a sustainable business model.

The more independemt Mail has attracted more attention and readership. Antony Mukwita, the paper's deputy managing director and Page 1 editor, said circulation has increased to 15,000 from about 10,000. "People are seeing a balance now," he said. While American journalists wouldn't like the sensational aspects of the paper (which are not that much different from the other two papers), Mukwita said its philosophy is to be an honest and candid "mirror of the nation."

The candor is sometimes stark and sexual, with stories about infidelity and personal issues. One in today's print edition was focused on court testimony about the size of a husband's genitals. I asked Judith Konayuma, the Gender Desk editor, what she thought about such coverage. "The idea isto show our readers the extent of rottenness in our society," she said. Her desk produces stories on women's and family issues, and men's issues, too. Her example of that was coverage of the Men's Network, which involves men in the effort to stem domestic violence.

Konayuma and other editors said newspaper circulation in Zambia is low, despite its 80 percent literacy rate, because it is an oral culture where people prefer to learn by word of mouth and know which neighbor to ask if they want to read something in a newspaper. "The newspaper industry in Zambia is a tricky business," she said. I plan to learn more about it in my visits next week with the Times of Zambia and The Post. Tomorrow I meet with government officials and broadcast interviewers to discuss a proposed Freedom of Information Act and a self-regulation process for the Zambian news media.

No comments:

Post a Comment