I didn’t know Sithembile Zulu, the young Daily Mail staffer who died, I gather from the posts I have seen on FaceBook, while giving birth. I have seen the outpouring of grief and emotion from many media professionals, some of whom I know well.
I have even seen an online hashtag campaign which reads: #NoWomanShouldDieWhileGivingLife being driven by journalists who knew her personally and will undoubtedly be broken by her death. I imagine that because she was “one of us”, her death will get some media attention.
But I want every Zambian journalist reading this to pause for a minute and reflect on how it came to pass that we failed Sithembile and thousands of women like her by not making health a story worth telling, even though health is a matter of life and death for 14 million people who live in this country.
And she passed on in a big city, the capital where there is even some modicum of care and infrastructure. Think about women tucked in the nooks and crannies of Zambia who risk death every time they have to give life to a child.
I am angry at all of us because we have chosen to subvert the values of news which form the bedrock of our professional and throw Public Interest out of the window. We have gone to bed with politicians and made them the only story in town. And for what? For the promise of a cushy diplomatic appointment or a seat on the government gravy train.
We should not pretend that we are not to blame for deliberately overlooking the news we should be covering and instead hiding behind the pale-faced excuse that because there is no Access to Information legislation in place, we are not able to report what we should.
We don’t cover health unless the Health Minister is making a speech about health. We don’t cover education unless the Education Minister is cutting a ribbon to officially launch a new school. We don’t cover agriculture even though we eat every day unless the Agriculture Minister decides to talk about maize floor prices. Come to think of it, we do not even cover mining, which gives the government over 70 per cent of its revenue and has been the mainstay of the national economy since the dawn of Time. We cover games not the broad expansive landscape of sport, so we are stumped where the soccer season closes and there are no games to watch!
When we scan news content in the public and private media, what do we see? Can we honestly claim that what is on offer gives people a real sense of what is going on in every sphere of concern under the administrative jurisdiction of a government ministry? In short, we cannot afford to be in denial about what is really wrong. I know there are real tears being shed for Sithembile Zulu, but I also know that there are many others riding on the crest of the moment to be seen to sympathise and shed hippo tears.
All said, the moral outrage that led to the hashtag campaign and to the effusiveness of the public show of grief should inspire us to do what we became journalists to do in the first place—and that is, to report news of significance and interest to our largest constituency: the public.