The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Zambia says the issuance of a search warrant on Prime Television by Police in Lusaka is unnecessary and aimed at intimidating the broadcasting house.

According to the search warrant served on Prime TV, Tuesday, police want to search the station’s computers for footage of a rally which occurred in Bweengwa on October 30 at which Bweengwa member of parliament Kasautu Michelo and Choma central member of parliament Cornelius Mweetwa allegedly defamed President Edgar Lungu.

“The said video footage was shown on Prime TV main news on 30/10/18 at 19:30 hours. The video footage is kept or stored in computers at Prime TV premises. You are hereby authorized and commanded in the name of the President with proper assistance, to enter the Prime TV station of Lusaka aforesaid (in the daytime), and there diligently search for the said goods, and if the same or any thereof found in the search, to bring the goods so found and also the said before this court to be dealt with, read the warrant.

The other footage police require is a news story which aired on November 18 in which Prime TV reported that some PF cadres had been given police uniforms on the Copperbelt.

But in a statement, MISA Zambia vice chairperson Hyde Haguta condemned the route taken by police, emphasising that it was unnecessary.

Haguta appealed to authorities to reconsider the search warrant and simply request Prime Television to give the police required evidence.

“MISA Zambia has learnt with disappointment that Police have obtained a search warrant to search computers and servers of Prime Television limited for footage aired which they alleged boarder on defamation of the President. We are shocked that according to the search warrant, police want to access a story quoting members of parliament for Bweengwa and Choma Central in which they are alleged to have issued remarks at a rally that PF cadres have been given police uniforms to use on the Copperbelt, in apparent reference to UPND President Hakainde Hichilema’s appearance at police in Ndola which took place on Tuesday. While we do respect the due process of the law and the route the police have taken, we however take strong exception to this level of intimidation to a media house doing its work of informing the public on a matter of public interest. There is no need to search servers for a libel matter. At best and as usual, request the Television station for footage required!” Haguta stated.

“We further are disturbed that police did not only block journalists from the private media who turned up to cover the questioning of the UPND leader by police at Ndola Central police over the ZAFFICO issue, but also detained a ZANIS journalist who was filming the blockade police had mounted ahead of Mr Hichilema’s arrival. This coincidence is too careless and too much and therefore abuse of power on the part of police. We are suspicious that police have for the first time had to obtain a search warrant to obtain footage which they have in the past easily requested for through written correspondence. What other motive would police have to search the Television Company for footage they can ask for than intimidation? This conduct is smelly of abuse of their powers and process to instill a chilling effect in the knees of journalists in the country and is undemocratic!”

Haguta argued that the media should not be gagged, harassed, manipulated or intimidated in such a manner.

“We know that a search warrant allows police officers to ransack the files of a broadcast house and takes not only hours but disrupts the smooth production process of the news and current affairs department. It also breeds fear and uncertainty among our members. We don’t want it! This is unnecessary and aimed at intimidating our members and as MISA Zambia, we strongly condemn the route taken even if it is on firm legal procedure, it is unnecessary! This is surely an intimidation to the operating environment of the television to operate and as a result, it will encourage self-censorship by the media and the consequences of it will work against the interest of the public and democracy. The media should not be gagged, harassed, manipulated and intimidated in such a manner as this is a violation of media rights and freedoms,” Haguta stated.

Haguta further appealed to Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja to instruct his officers to halt the intended search at Prime Television and simply ask for the information that his office requires.

“Prime Television is a messenger only conveying information to the public and should therefore not be gagged. Since police have identified the members of parliament who allegedly issued defamatory remarks against the President, why not go after the parliamentarians than resorting to acts of intimidating the media? In any case police should have been more grateful to Prime Television for reporting a crime as good citizens and therefore must be commended and not harassed. We appeal to the Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja to halt the intended search and ask for information his office requires. The matter has not even been submitted for prosecution before the courts of law to warrant such an apparent heavy handed action on a noble institution doing its work,” stated Haguta.

Meanwhile, MacDonald Chipenzi through his GEARS Initiative said that police must allow the independent media to operate freely in Zambia.

“The continued suppressing of civic, political and media spaces in Zambia must be of concern to all democracy lovers. The warrants being issued by police against Prime TV is pure act of harassment and intimidation and suppression of independent media in Zambia. The police must allow the media to operate free and use legal channels of complaint against any media house that is perceived to have erred unlike this directionless approaches being used,” stated Chipenzi.