Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) president Andrew Sakala says police should stop using the media as investigative agencies for collecting evidence.

Recently, police issued search warrants against Prime TV, demanding some footage that was broadcast in 2018 to aid their investigations into Defamation of the President cases.

But in an interview, Sakala observed that the police had become obstacles to media freedom by intimidating media houses with search warrants for their broadcast materials.

“The police are abusing their authority. The police should not use the media as an investigative agency or a wing where they can collect evidence. The police should carry-out their investigations professionally and use other means to collect the evidence. And the police should also not use the judiciary to investigate because by going to the judiciary and obtaining warrants is another form of judicial intimidation on the media, knowing well that if the media ignore a warrant signed by a magistrate, then they can be liable to sanctions. So they are using the judiciary to intimidate the media and to carry out their work,” Sakala said.

“We are coming to a situation where the police have become a threat to the media. They have become an obstacle to media freedom. The police are now threatening the media in their operations because the media now do not know what to do. And under our ethics, the media are not supposed to disclose their sources [or news] including releasing of recorded interviews either electronically or in your note book. You are not supposed to do that because if you do that, it means that you lose confidence of your sources. And if the media lose confidence of the sources, it means media freedom is gone, it means you cannot do investigative journalism, it means people cannot accept to come and appear on your TV shows, it means people cannot just give interviews to any media institutions knowing very well that what they say may be used against them.”

Sakala asked the Ministry of Information not to rush into regulating the media but also push for media law reform programme.

“And that is why we need the media law reform programme because at the moment, apart from the constitution, there is no other subsidiary law that promotes, defends and protects media freedom in this country. There is no law that recognises the rights of journalists to cover newsworthy public figures or collect information. So our appeal to the Ministry of Information is that while they have been very quick in pushing for media regulation, they have been very slow in carrying out the other part of the media law reform programme which is to ensure that all these laws that exist which police use to collect and force journalists to release materials like recordings, pictures and everything, are still laying there and yet they are not very quick to ensure that there is promotion, defence and protection of journalists,” Sakala said.

Meanwhile, Sakala said IBA had failed in its duties because it was being used as a tool to suffocate the media.

“And the Independent Broadcasting Authority has been a disappointment. Instead of protecting the journalists, it’s been in the forefront of allowing journalists especially those in electronic media to be abused because if these people need materials from 2018, why can’t they go to the IBA to collect these materials? So the IBA is failing in its duties. It’s being used as a tool to suffocate media freedom. When we were campaigning for the introduction of IBA, our objective was that the IBA should be on the forefront of protecting the broadcast industry in the country, but now it has taken the other route and it’s very sad. And we call upon the Ministry of Information to quickly appoint a full board because right now we only have the permanent secretary which means that it’s just a one man board,” he said.

And Sakala said it was illegal for a statutory body like IBA to operate for more than three months without a full board.

“So we call upon the Ministry of Information to quickly appoint a full IBA board without delay because right now only one or two people are making decisions when these decisions should be made by a full board unlike now where the board only consists of the PS and the managing director. And in fact, it is illegal for a statutory body in this country to operate without a full board for more than three months but the IBA has been operating without a board for more than three months. Is against the law,” said Sakala.