Zambian Media Under Siege –Vernon Mwaanga.
VETERAN politician Vernon Mwaanga says the state of the media in Zambia is depressing.
In a statement, Mwaanga, a seasoned journalist, noted that intimidation and violence against the independent media had reached alarmingly dangerous proportions, which had instilled a sense of fear in journalists.
“The freedom to express opinions, impart information and ideas without interference, be it to members of the public or to any person or class of persons, is a constitutional right. If one looks at what happened in the initial stages, the late president Michael Sata used the independent media to get his message across to the Zambian people and the government of the day at that time did not prevent this,” Mwaanga recalled.
“Mr Sata ended up becoming President of Zambia and he must be turning in his grave to see what his successor has done to the very media which helped propel him and his party into power in 2011. Freedom of the press or freedom of the media means the absence of interference from an over-reaching state which attempts to stifle the ability of the press to express views or opinions which government does not like.”
He explained that according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, everyone had the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Mwaanga stated that such rights included freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
“There are many national constitutions in the world, which guarantee this freedom of the press to print and publish. It is not uncommon for the concept of freedom of speech to be covered by the same laws as freedom of the press, thereby giving treatment to spoken and published expression. This freedom has come under severe scrutiny in our country in the last few months because of measures taken by the PF government to silence the private media which has had a robust history since the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in 1991,” Mwaanga stated.
“If it has not been The Post newspaper, which has provided independent checks and balances on the government of the day, it has been Muvi TV, Komboni radio, Itezhi Tezhi radio or Radio Mano. Intimidation and violence against the independent media has reached alarmingly dangerous proportions, which have instilled a sense of fear in journalists.”
He condemned the use of administrative instruments to silence the private media.
Mwaanga stated that the PF government was keen in rendering the private media inoperative just to insulate themselves from criticism and reporting ills of the PF government.
“The government has not been shy to use administrative instruments to silence the private media and render them inoperative just to insulate themselves against criticism and prevent them from reporting corruption, incompetence, state brutality, human rights violations and bad governance. These acts are normally associated with dictatorshidseps and totalitarian regimes which have existed in a number of oppressive regimes which have repressed the right to speak, to write and to be heard,” Mwaanga stated adding, “Cantankerous defenders of these repressive measures against the media have or will soon discover that they need this very private media when they leave office. Experience and history have shown that the most permanent thing in our lives is change. Those in government today will be out of government tomorrow and the systems they leave behind, have the potential to be used against them.”
He stated that older democracies had discovered that oppressing and hindering freedom of the press was not a guarantee of security and that fear among citizens or the media to report truthfully bred repression.
“And that repression will in turn breed undesirable consequences. We must come to accept that free debate in our country is a valve through which citizens with grievances or disagreements can blow off steam. We must accept that openness fosters resilience and that peaceful protest avoids violence. Freedom of the press is an essential contributor to restrain tyranny, corruption and ineptitude in a flourishing or emerging democracy,” stated Mwaanga.
“Freedom of the press protects the right of journalists to obtain and publish information or opinions without government censorship or fear of punishment as is being currently experienced by staff of the state controlled media. Journalists generally understand that there are red lines when it comes to national security and individual privacy laws which apply in every country. Freedom of the press is an essential ingredient of democracy and it is the duty of the government and citizens to protect it at all costs, because if this is not done, we shall see our hard won democracy annihilated and buried in the dustbin of history. This will be too high a price to pay and future generations will not forgive us.”