Defamation of the president and the law's effect on media performance: a study of the Zambia Daiily Mail and The Post newspaper
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Zambia has had several Constitutional review initiatives since pre-independence times. However, these initiatives have not brought about the much needed media reforms, thus allowing the existence of colonial legislation such as the Penal Code, which contains several provisions, among them the law on defamation of the President. As such, this study undertook to establish the effect of defamation of the President on media performance by observing key indicators in relation to coverage, portrayal and treatment of the President in news stories in The Daily Mail and The Post newspapers. The study also aimed to establish the rationale of the law on defamation of the President. In that regard, a content analysis of six hundred hard news stories about the President was conducted from March to June, 2016. Additionally, eight in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals from relevant sectors pertaining to media performance in Zambia. Despite the limitations posed by the law, the majority of the stories in the Daily Mail and The Post were still able to carry certain themes such as the performance or competence of the President. With regard to framing, the stories in the two newspapers are on opposite ends of the continuum. Whereas an extremely high number of stories analysed in the Daily Mail commend and portray the President as a hero, the stories in The Post are critical and portray the President as incompetent. Similarly, The Post newspaper was able to ‘defame’ the President, according to the operationalisation of the law, while the Daily Mail only carried stories in approval of the Presidency. Other findings under the story treatment/placement, sources and use of pictures as accompaniment to stories also corroborate this study’s conclusion. The findings of the dissertation challenge theoretical assumptions that agenda setting and news framing by the media is highly dependent on the limitations posed by the law. The study concludes that the law is irrational and has lost its relevance as it does not meet the minimum benchmarks to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic political system like Zambia. The study also concludes that media performance (defined by the watchdog role) and media’s framing of coverage or news stories about the President is affected by several factors other than the law alone. These factors, particularly political polarisation, ownership and business interests have more damaging effects on media performance and thus affect the watchdog role, news framing and agenda setting and not necessarily the law on defamation of the President.