Media crackdown

The decision by Government to block   Zambia Watchdog an online news-service and subsequent harassment of journalists associated with it marks a new low in the history of our country.
This is the first time that any sitting Government has gone to the extent of disabling a news outlet and at the same time harassing journalists to the extent of searching their homes before being charged.
Combined with the current shambles in the Judiciary the assault on democracy, rule of law and separation of powers is almost complete.
The cumulative effect of intimidating journalists and judicial workers is to roll back the gains made in our march towards a strong, vibrant and dynamic democracy.
It is understandable that Government has taken umbrage over the style and mode of reporting exhibited by the Zambian watchdog, but the extreme response is unlikely to yield the desired result as Zambians may still access stories through other means.
If anything the act of blocking the service will encourage the emergence of other services or worse still provide a technical challenge to those running the watchdog to find other means of continuing to report.
The most effective response to false hoods is to provide correct information. The truth, presented in timely fashion will always serve as the most effective answer and counter to bad reporting. Closing down the medium will have very limited effect.
What is also true is that the dawn Police raids on journalists, is a very new phenomenon in this country. It has never happened before on the scale that it is happening today. It is also true that the raids and subsequent   arraignment of journalists will generate a fear factor among the fraternity, but this too will have a limited effect over a limited period time.
The overall effect however will be to generate resentment within the journalism fraternity and among those who feel that in a democracy the citizenry must be accorded the widest possible range of voices from which they will be able to make an informed opinion.
Few Zambians take what they read at face value. It takes much more to cultivate confidence and trust for consumers to rely on any media source, hence the futility of imposing a reading preference on a population that has previously exercised the right of choice.
Indeed censorship is only effective in a population that has not known the benefits of choice and diversity. The new hurdle will do little to deter let alone extinguish appetites for alternative journalism which the watchdog and other online services provide.
Ultimately the most effective counter to negative propaganda is positive propaganda. The Government must invest in a proactive public relations exercise that will provide real time answers to issues and concerns as they arise.