By Pius Muteekani Katunzi
Managing Director/Editor of The Observer in Uganda
Media organisations across the world are grappling with an evolving landscape brought on by shifts in content consumption, increased competition for advertising revenue and the aftershocks of a pandemic. In June I travelled to Zambia where I met key figures from Zambian media. I picked up crucial insights, valuable not only for my organisation but also for others navigating Africa’s media landscape and embracing the digital transformation imperative.
Diversify beyond traditional advertising
Zambia’s media organisations are reliant on government advertising as a primary revenue stream. This dependence has made traditional media outlets vulnerable to shifts in government policies and critical reporting. To mitigate this risk, newsrooms must diversify their revenue sources. This diversification can encompass subscription models, audience membership programmes, and exploring financial support from philanthropists and donors.
Embrace digital transformation
Zambian media outlets have adapted to the digital age by offering online news products, such as ePapers and websites. This transition has not been without its challenges, but it highlights the importance of embracing change quickly and with agility. Newsrooms must continually invest in user-friendly websites, mobile apps and interactive digital content to engage a broader and digitally savvy audience.
Protect intellectual property and content
In Zambia, media outlets have recognised the value of their content and guard it jealously. They limit access to their stories to subscribers, both through their ePapers and websites. This practice emphasises the importance of content protection and encourages readers to subscribe for full access. Newsrooms can adopt similar strategies along a price continuum to protect their stories and incentivise readers to support quality journalism.
Integration of social media
Incorporating social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to promote content is a global trend. Zambian media outlets use social media to provide teasers and highlights, directing readers to paywalls or websites for full stories. This preserves the value of their content while leveraging the reach of social media. This helps them avoid compromising on monetisation.
Adoption of subscription models
All media houses in Zambia, including government-run ones, have adopted subscription models, offering various packages. This practice aligns with the global shift toward reader-supported journalism. Audiences are offered daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual options. While readers must pay for access to both ePapers and websites, the protective measures against content sharing, such as preventing ePaper downloads, demonstrate an industry commitment to maintaining revenue streams. While challenges persist in generating enthusiastic responses from readers, international agencies resident in Zambia, such as embassies and UN agencies, have emerged as significant subscribers, demonstrating faith in independent media.
Media ownership and independence
Zambia’s media landscape, save for the government-owned Daily Mail, is characterised by ownership by journalists or former media leaders. This ownership diversity enhances editorial independence and represents a broad spectrum of perspectives. Diversified ownership structures help improve impartial reporting.
Diversity in leadership
Key leadership roles within several Zambian media organisations are held by women. At the Daily Nation, the head of legal affairs, the chief commercial manager, the human resources manager and the chief accountant are women. They have helped build an inclusive work environment for all employees, which can be seen in the large team of women reporters who provide fresh and diverse perspectives in content. At Millenium TV, the WAN-IFRA Women in News Editorial Laureate Mary Mbewe is the managing editor. Her leadership has led to innovative programming that caters to a wide range of audience interests and has catalysed positive social change. The Diggers has Mukosha Njenga as the managing editor. Her commitment to ethical journalism has given her organisation an influential voice in Zambia. At the Daily Mail, Elmeda Libanga is the acting managing editor, and she is guiding the organisation through the transition to digital. Her foresight is proving invaluable. Gender representation within these media organisations is not a mere token gesture – it is a reflection of each woman’s exceptional skills, qualifications and dedication. And the dividends are clear in the quality of journalism, the diversity of voices and the reputation of these organisations. Zambia’s media is committed to implementing gender and diversity policies, igniting a transformation in newsrooms and inspiring a generation of women to break through barriers. This has sent a powerful message of empowerment and showed the nation that when everyone is given equal opportunities, remarkable things happen.
Challenges and the road ahead
While my tour of Zambia’s media industry offered valuable lessons and insights for me as a Ugandan editor, I am aware that significant challenges persist. Outdated and vague laws, such as The Penal Code Act, State Security Act and Official Secrets Act continue to stifle freedom of expression. The absence of an Access to Information Act restricts journalists’ ability to access government-held information. Moreover, the threat of criminal libel and intimidation against critics remains a concern.
Still, the Zambian media industry’s journey through the Covid-19 pandemic illustrates a tapestry of resilience and adaptability despite it facing challenges that mirror those seen elsewhere. Diversifying revenue streams, embracing digital transformation, protecting content, using social media strategically, adopting subscription models, promoting editorial independence and pursuing diversity in leadership can help newsrooms better weather the storms of change to continue to provide valuable information to their audiences.
As Zambia continues to advocate for media freedom, inclusive leadership and legal reforms, its industry peers are watching, taking notes and learning from the southern African nation. The pursuit of journalistic excellence remains unwavering, echoing the sentiment that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
Main image (from left): Emelda Musonda, acting managing editor, Daily Mail; Pius Muteekani Katunzi, managing director/editor of The Observer; Mary Mbewe, the managing editor of Millenium TV
The author, Pius Muteekani Katunzi, is managing director/editor of The Observer, a weekly, independent newspaper in Uganda. He was on a benchmarking mission in Zambia in June 2023 sponsored by WAN-IFRA Women in News. He met key figures in the media industry, including Emelda Musonda, the acting managing editor, and Simate Simate, the acting managing director, both of the Daily Mail; Dr Richard Sakala, the managing editor of the Daily Nation; Mary Mbewe, the managing editor of Millennium TV; Joseph Mwenda, the editor-in-chief of The Diggers; and Larry Monze, the editor-in-chief of The Mast. He also interacted with officials from the Zambia Police and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), among others.
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