Saturday, 15 October 2016

Zambia’s Ruling Patriotic Front Junta Is Nowhere Nearer On Promoting Media Freedoms


The Edgar Lungu Led Junta Is Using Public Institutions Like The Police, Revenue Authority and the Independent Broadcasting Authority To Fish Out Cases Against The Media To Intimidate Them And Create Fear So That They Do Not Cover The Opposition
 
By Nyalubinge Ngwende
Politicians, one day I may be one but probably with exceptional values, think they have the free world to themselves. They think they can have both worlds of being responsible and irresponsible and get away with it. And when the media plays its adversary role to interpret and criticise their irresponsibility they will walk all the way to find means to shut these media up.

Media's role is not just about being a conveyor belt of these politicians’ empty statements, actions and wishes. Media sees through those statements and actions, threshes out truth and exposes falsehoods  and laughs, sometimes with ridicule and unreserved disrespect as well as harshness, at political stupidity albeit politicians not wishing and unwilling to see it as such. 

The Patriotic Front government in Zambia under President Edgar Lungu is such a park of politicians who don’t want to accept the role of the media, and it is not stopping anywhere nearer now from intimidating the media. 

Just before elections The Post, the country’s most credible private newspaper, had its offices closed and its equipment seized, ostensibly over a case of unpaid tax. The Zambia Revenue Authority still keeps the newspaper shut. The paper has not been able to print in its full texture and format ever since, as it has been left to improvise to maintain its circulation.

As that was not enough, immediately after elections the not so Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was coerced, not from anywhere else but State House, to suspend the license of the only credible private television, Muvi TV. IBA claimed the television station broadcast material that was inciting violence following a disputed election. 

Largely, the concerned public thought the suspension of the license for the television station was meant to deny opposition leaders a meaningful mass medium through which they could build their case of a stolen election and balanced coverage of the proceedings of the presidential election petition.
Fast forward! 

Prime TV, another television station based in Lusaka, the country’s capital city, is the latest victim of government intimidation. Police are using one of the draconian laws, the State Security statute, to intimidate, bring fear and coerce the station to release footage of a meeting held by Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of United Party for National Development (UPND), the country’s biggest opposition. 

The police want the footage to build a case of treason against the opposition leader who is believed to have defiantly declared during the meeting that he will never ever recognise Edgar Lungu as the country’s legitimately elected President.

The police wrote a letter asking the Prime TV owners to avail the footage of their coverage of the opposition meeting. The television station broadcast a story based on the letter from the police, which the police are now treating as a leak of a State Secret.   

“Today (October 13, 2016) we summoned Gerald Shawa, 42 who is Managing Director of Prime TV and Makokwa Kozi, 35, the acting Station Manager for the television Station in connection with a leaked government document which the Zambia Police addressed to the Station's legal counsel requesting for footage of the Press briefing that was held by the UPND on 10th October, 2016,” said the police spokeswoman, Esther Katongo.

The police spokeswoman said the duo were “Warned and Cautioned for the offence of Communication of Certain Information contrary to section 4 (1)(b) of the State Security Act Chapter 111 of the Laws of Zambia, Section 4 (1) (b) of the State Security Act”.

According to Katongo the Act the police are citing states that “Any person who has in his possession or under his control any document or information which he has had access owing to his position as a person who holds such office or has held such office and who Communicates the same to any person other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate, commits an offence”.

What the police are doing is nowhere nearer to meeting professional standards. And One need not to be specialized in media law to notice that the police are misapplying the State Security Act and doing the most stupid thing—to bring cooked up charges to intimidate anyone and any institution that aids the opposition to have their voice heard.

The question that most people are asking is: “when did a police call-out or document to a private individual or corporate citizen to avail themselves to law enforcement ever become a State Security. 
BJ