Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) says journalists must be allowed to keep public officers accountable without intimidation or harassment.

In a statement to commemorate World Press Freedom Day which falls today, TIZ executive director Wesley Chibamba observed that journalists in Zambia were accused of being sponsored by the opposition of they wrote a story critical of the government.

“We are living in an era where if a journalist writes a story critical of government then they are being sponsored by the opposition political party and vice versa. Surely this is unacceptable and needs to change especially in a country like Zambia where we are governed by the rule of law. It is only true that we expect the media to freely report on all injustice and malpractices without fearing any repercussions. However, what we are seeing is that you can have freedom of speech but no freedom after speech,” Chibamba stated.

“TIZ is therefore reminding the government and the people of Zambia of their commitment to respect and appreciate press freedom. A free media means open criticism, objective news coverage and balanced reporting, a situation we are not seeing in most of the public media houses and private media institutions. Let the media perform their duties and let them keep those with power in check.”

He noted that a free media was key for any country to achieve meaningful development.

“As a global movement, we without doubt pay our allegiance to the media fraternity for the unprecedented support they continue giving us in our quest to fight the scourge of corruption and the practice of bad governance that we have witnessed in a lot of countries across the globe. Indeed it’s only proper that an organisation such as ours which champions press freedom among other things, join the media in celebrating their day taking into account the harsh environment that they operate in. In line with the theme of “Keeping power in check, justice and the rule of law”, we would like appeal to those in authority especially the political players to allow the media to operate freely and objectively because a free media is key for any country to achieve meaningful development,” Chibamba stated.

“We are in the information age now, hence the call to let the media operate without manipulation cannot go unheeded as the media are the eye, ears and mouth for the many poor Zambians who wonder why they have continued to suffer even when so many promises are made when political parties are campaigning for power. Our interpretation of this year’s theme is simple, the media both private and public have continued to face harassments, poor conditions of service and draconian laws that hinder their quest in keeping those in power under surveillance and ensuring that justice and the rule of law take its course.”

And Chibamba urged journalists to exhibit high professional standards.

“TIZ would like to take this opportunity to remind the media fraternity of their obligation to stick to their highest professional ethics and standards. We live in an era where journalists compromise their integrity, they are paid to kill a story or to fabricate story or just report it in a skewed way, contrary to what professional conduct provides for. The media is so polarized that biased reporting and unfair coverage are the order of the day. There is no longer objective reporting. We challenge the media fraternity to practice professional journalism and observe high ethical standards as we celebrate press freedom day. A free media is key to good governance,” stated Chibamba.

“As a way to help the media fraternity operate better, we once again call upon the PF government to enact the Access to Information law. We are challenging our listening government and the able leadership of President Edgar Chagwa Lungu to ensure that this bill is tabled in Parliament and that the Zambian people are given what they have been asking for in the last 15 years. As an organisation that is built on principles of transparency, accountability and integrity, we feel that citizens of this country need the ATI to be enacted into law because we want citizens together with other stakeholders such as the media to monitor and hold accountable their leaders and civil servants both in the past, current and future Governments. We are further calling this government not to enact pieces of legislation that stifle media freedoms such as cyber laws targeting the use of social media that the government is trying to enact.”