Working as a journalist in Zambia now a ‘criminal’ offence – PAZA

Working as a journalist in Zambia now a ‘criminal’ offence – PAZA.

PRESS Association of Zambia president Andrew Sakala says working as a journalist in Zambia today appears to be a criminal offence.

The PF government has waged a serious crackdown on independent media, harassing journalists and institutions that do not toe the ruling party line.

On June 21, the government, through the Zambia Revenue Authority, closed down The Post offices on Bwinjimfumu Road and its printing facility in the light industrial area on the pretext of tax collection, amounts which are disputed.

The government has now moved, using its allies, to place the newspaper under liquidation.

Then the government-controlled Independent Broadcasting Authority suspended broadcasting licences for Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Radio Itezhi-Tezhi and later lifted them after forcing the stations to ‘apologise’ for what they termed unprofessional conduct during the August 11 elections.

The government later extended its harassment of independent media outlets to Prime TV, using the police, to force it to release footage of Hakainde Hichilema’s press briefing at his house last week.

The police warned and cautioned Prime TV director Gerald Shawa and acting station manager Kozi Makokwa for ‘circulating the police letter which requested the TV station to provide Hichilema’s footage’.

On Monday, police in Chipata arrested and detained CTV news editor Iris Mwale on allegations of seditious practice after the station aired a news item from the UPND leadership in Eastern Province saying the party did not recognise Edgar Lungu as Republican President.

On Tuesday Morning, police summoned and cautioned Oracle Media Productions director Mutinta Mazoka M’membe over the publication of The Mast.

And on Tuesday afternoon, Kasama police arrested the entire Radio Mano newsroom staff for allegedly using insulting language on some PF members who were on a programme earlier where they accused the radio station of being a UPND sympathiser.
Commenting on the incidents, Sakala said it was indisputable that the atmosphere in Zambia was hostile for media practitioners and media institutions.

“Doing your work as a journalist in Zambia today appears to be a criminal issue. We are very disappointed with the behaviour of the police. We have now reached a point where the police are now abusing their powers. In other words, journalism is slowly being criminalised because the police are arresting journalists and charging them with all sorts of offences,” Sakala said.

“We think this is abuse of power and we think the Inspector General of Police and the Ministry of Home Affairs must put an end to this. They must seriously put an end to this and ensure that journalists are allowed to do their job. It is very sad, really, that journalism and freedom of the media is being muzzled. Freedom of expression is suffering. The Director of Public Prosecution should step in and stop the abuse of prosecutorial powers because what is happening is that…like the case of Muvi TV and Radio Mano where journalists are doing their duties, they are arrested and beaten and charged with conduct likely to cause the breach of peace.”

He said it was clear that the police were abusing their powers.

“There is need for the government to intervene and ensure that journalists are not dragged to the police on framed up charges. To me, all these journalists are being arrested on framed up charges. They are being made to spend nights in cells, look for money to pay lawyers for offences they did not commit. So, we want all these things to come to an end,” said Sakala, who further appealed to new Minister of Information Kampamba Mulenga to create a conducive atmosphere for journalism to thrive.

“Right now in Zambia, such an atmosphere does not exist and if such an atmosphere is not there, democracy suffers and people are not free to express themselves, journalists cannot work freely because they don’t want to be arrested. We are saddened by what is happening to the media industry in Zambia. This is the first time this is happening. I have been a journalist for more than 25 years and this is the first time I have seen such kind of attack and assault on media freedom especially coming from state agencies like the police.”