The Fall of Media “King Makers”
Yesterday, 1st September marked the beginning of summer, winter is officially gone. But lessons from the events leading to the official end of Wynter in winter cannot go without sharing and comparing with similar events from around the world.
Bob Marley once said:
“You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
No matter how cunning one can be, the truth about their being, values, drive and inert character will always come forth at the opportune time, and as the Bible says: You will know them by their works, not words. From the outset, let me state my position on the state of our print media in Zambia: The Zambian media’s failure to present to the public the accurate view of the state of our governance is the greatest threat to Zambia’s democracy and development than poverty, disease and hunger. Long before presidential elections are to be held, our media, especially Wynter Kabimba’s appointed image building media house had started anointing the ‘leading candidate’ for the presidency, supposedly cementing their imaginary image of “King Makers”.
The events of the past week remind me of the life of Boris Berezovsky, once a Russian Media and Political Tycoon, who is said to have ‘made’ Russia’s two presidents through his media influence.
Mr. Berezovsky, a former academic professor of Mathematics developed into one of Russia’s best-known tycoons in an era of privatization, violence and cutthroat capitalism that defined Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Berezovsky used all his money and power for his own personal and selfish gain.
Like our own self-labelled King Makers and self-praised moralists, Mr. Berezovsky often bragged of his contacts with Mr. Yeltsin’s family—Then President of Russia before Vladimir Putin. Mr. Berezovsky became a key conduit to decision makers in the ailing and absentee president’s inner circle in the late 1990s—a group known as “the family”—similar to the Zambian “Cartel”. In Zambia, the “Cartel”, taking advantage of the absentee president, were at the helm of decision making, ruthlessly crushing any competition to succession—real or perceived.
One of Mr. Berezovsky’s key levers of power was television. He used his connections to gain control of Russia’s main TV network and employed the channel to his ends. In Mr. Vladmir Putin’s campaign to power, Mr. Berezovsky put his resources behind Mr. Putin’s rise to power. With his television channel turning its attention to Mr. Putin’s opponents, systematically taking them down ahead of an election that Mr. Putin handily won. Berezovsky brought Putin to power not only with enormous financial help but also with enormous media resources, effectively being called a mafia kingpin who in exchange for money provided high-level connections and protection. We have seen this in our nation recently, where those that sing and dance for the king maker paper are protected from prosecution. But then we also saw how the King Maker paper behaved from 2008 when Mwanawasa died and Ngandu Magande, their favourite candidate to take over from Mwanawasa lost to Rupiah Banda.
Desperate to be close to the power corridors, they bought into Michael Sata’s vision of the PF, a vision they had never believed in. They suddenly became Mr. Sata’s image builders—a man they so despised a few months earlier, and like Mr. Berezovsky television network, their paper launched a massive attack at Mr. Sata’s opposition in government and outside government. And yes, in 2011, whether directly attributable to their king making prowess or indeed Zambian’s desire for change, Mr. Sata won the presidential elections.
But in Russia, the decision to bring Mr. Putin to power was one Mr. Berezovsky lived to regret. The two quickly clashed after Mr. Putin entered the Kremlin. Mr. Berezovsky fell out of favour with Vladmir Putin. His power, money and influence had dwindled in the wake of Mr. Putin’s realisation of who Mr. Berezovsky really was and what he stood for. Mr. Putin chose to be his own man, and alas, Mr. Berezovsky left Russia and lived his remaining life in exile. He failed to cope and reinvent himself. To the credit of our King Maker newspaper, they lack any shame and can change camps at the dangling of a K14billion Cheque for debt write off.
While in exile, Mr. Berezovsky renounced and said:
“I repent and ask for forgiveness for bringing Vladimir Putin to power. I apologize for bringing to power a man who trampled freedom and stopped the development of Russia.”
While in London, out of the favour and luxury of power, Mr. Berezovsky tried to associate himself with Russia’s opposition figures, and often said he was trying to foment unrest against Mr. Putin from abroad. This however, failed.
Here was once a great mathematics professor in the Soviet era, earning a subsistence wage, he became one of the richest men in the world, a flamboyant billionaire who helped put two presidents in the Kremlin. He became the enemy of one of them and was forced into exile. Sadly, on March 23, 2013, he died in London, in exile, alone. The media kingmaker had not only outlived his usefulness in Russian politics, but on earth too.
That said, however, while the print media mays still be perceive powerful and brag of being the largest circulation countrywide, there is an emergence of a very powerful and effective remedy to the Kingmakers’ poisonous influence on Zambian politics: Participatory journalism. Opinion Blogs, chat rooms, virtual worlds, and Internet contributions. All these have progressively empowered ordinary Zambian citizens to change the course of the conduct of governance in Zambian politics.
Reading through the newspapers, I have found Mr. Wynter Kabimba’s media king makers to be highly unimpressive in their handling of his firing, furthermore, they have now clearly proved to be an inherently unreliable and deceitful bunch of media practitioners who regard the truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be molded to suit their current purposes, interests and financial aims. Clearly their influence and relevance is fast dissipating.
Zambians are now their own kingmaker. The era of enlightenment is here.