Veteran Politician and five times Minister of Information Vernon Mwaanga says it is unfortunate that 73% of ZNBC news content covers the ruling party, according to a new independent study.

And Mwaanga says journalists must be allowed to operate freely because their work help holding leaders accountable, hence promoting democracy.

In a statement, Saturday, Mwaanga who is also a former editor of the Times of Zambia, saluted journalists in the country for continuing to informing the public under a hostile environment.

“Here at home, there are instances when private radio stations have been attacked and vandalised by party cadres of political parties, simply because they don’t like the people being featured. Not so long ago, Prime TV had its license suspended for one month, using the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (IBA), as punitive punishment for certain items they aired on their TV station. The closure of Prime TV drew severe local and international condemnation. Yet the IBA Act does not cover ZNBC, the largest broadcaster in the country, which is also a public broadcaster,” Mwaanga observed.

“An independent study conducted recently, shows that the news segment of ZNBC comprises 73 per cent of government or ruling party content, with the change being left for all other news, including that from all opposition parties in the country , whose members and supporters are forced to pay TV levy annually. This is a travesty of the most elementary rules of natural justice and fairness. It must be corrected urgently, so that there is a level playing field in the electronic broadcasting field which is currently weighted against the private media. Journalists must be allowed to carry out their important duties without hindrance. What is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. Press freedom should not continue to remain a bridge too far,” Mwaanga said.

He send his solidarity message on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day which falls on May 3.

“I salute the need for press freedom and respectfully honour journalists who work under very difficult conditions to give us unfettered news and all the tremendous personal sacrifices they make to inform us, educate and keep us adequately entertained. Let the truth be told objectively and accurately, because this is of critical importance in holding leaders at different levels accountable to their people.”

He said it was regrettable that journalists remained targets of persecution across the world for doing their work.

“As we mark World Press Freedom Day, it is time to reflect on how the media has faired since last year. It regrettable that pressmen and women around the world, are still targets of violent attacks and brutality in many parts of the world. Some of these acts have led to deaths of journalists and in some cases to arbitrary arrests, torture and imprisonment for simply practicing their profession. Press Freedom is an essential ingredient in any genuine democracy and must be honoured and even celebrated. Journalists have an important duty to report the truth and analyse issues objectively. There are sadly still countries in the world, where even just to report the truth and nothing but the truth is considered a crime. In other countries, it is still a punishable criminal offence not to report what the Heads of State and his ruling party cronies are doing or saying, no matter how mundane,” said Mwaanga.

“Recently in the Republic of Benin, sham elections were held, where opposition parties were prevented from participating by a partisan and highly compromised Electoral Commission and only two political parties aligned to the President, were allowed to contest Parliamentary elections. Local Journalists who dared to question this dictatorial and undemocratic decision, were either beaten up or locked up by state or political party agents. Reports by the International Press Union and other relevant human rights bodies, continue to paint a very gloomy picture of how journalists are being treated in many parts of the world and even how numbers of journalists being killed in the line of duty, continue to rise. It is said that the inconvenient truth sometimes hurts. This does not take away the inescapable duty of journalists to report the truth and hold those in power and leaders in society accountable and transparent in what they do in the name of the people.”