Zambia Police deputy spokesperson Rae Hamoonga has asked journalists to ensure their lives are not risked at the expense of the news stories they pursue.

Speaking at Eastern Comfort Lodge during the police-media relations dialogue organized by Bloggers of Zambia, Friday, Hamoonga expressed serious concern over journalists who covered violent incidences without proper safety gear or adequate training.

“There is no story that is worth your life, so value your life than your story because if you value your story than your life, then you will lose life,” Hamoonga cautioned.

He urged journalists not to cover riotous incidences when they were not in protective attire.

“Don’t cover a riotous event if you don’t have protective attire because you will die,” he warned.

He has called on media houses to improve on identification because “a pen, a camera or a phone” were not identities of a journalist, but clearly marked press jackets and press cards.

He said police viewed the media as their close partners because the fourth estate remained the vehicle they rode on to reach the masses.

“From a police point of view, the media is regarded as our very close partner because you are the vehicle to which through we are able to reach the masses, who we serve dearly and as well I know you serve, too. And going forward, we expect such dialogue, which you have initiated with the local command that are going to continue so that, together, we can police the public for the betterment of this country,” Hamoonga added.

When asked why police officers usually regarded journalist as their enemies, Hamoonga refuted the assertion, but stressed that journalists tended to ignore the role of the police, especially in events where VVIPs were covered.

“Police officers regard journalists as breaching the security detail because where we say, ‘don’t pass’ that’s where a reporter with a pen, writing pad, camera wants to by-pass the police security detail and like that, you won’t cooperate with us because our interest is the security of the VVIPs. So, don’t trouble our police officers when they are on duty! They are just doing their role and you are doing your role and the best is remain in your lane,” said Hamoonga.

And Bloggers of Zambia chief executive officer Richard Mulonga called on journalists to write factual and truthful news as a way to protect genuine journalism.

“We have a role to promote the growth of democracy in the nation. As journalists, we should separate our private lives and official duties because such dent the reputation of others and also media professionalism. We know there are so many people who pretend to be journalists, but all we have to do is to follow the ethics of journalism,” Mulonga said.

He also stressed the need for police and the news media to work as partners as Zambia drew closer to the 2021 general election to avoid both parties regard each other as enemies.

“Going towards 2021, the problem of media-police conflicts will be very high and we have to settle this out now so that, come that time, we are good partners (and) journalists are well protected,” said Mulonga.

Meanwhile, Eastern Province Police Commissioner Luckson Sakala, who was the guest of honor represented by Stanford Kabila, assured journalists that any officer who would be found harassing journalists would be sternly dealt with.

“We condemn in the strongest terms any form of attacks on our noble journalists. As the police command, we are ready to discipline any police officers who will willfully oppress any journalist. In the same vein, we implore all media houses to give police officers reasonable legal space so that we can avoid unnecessary conflicts,” he said.

“As Zambia Police, we would like to commit ourselves that we shall protect our colleagues from the media from any form of harassment by creating a conducive working environment for them.”

Sakala called on journalists to publish verified information to avoid any unnecessary conflict.

“We, therefore, request journalists to publish well-checked information so that we avoid unnecessary police/media personnel legal confrontations. False news has made our citizens, who are sworn to protect, vulnerable to a lot of physical and emotional stress. In some cases, people have lost their marriages, jobs and the trust that they had. We don’t take pleasure in arresting journalists; we take them as our own,” said Sakala, who also expressed hope that through the project Bloggers of Zambia hasd embarked on, there would be good communication and coordination between the police service and the media in Eastern Province.

Meanwhile, Eastern Province press club vice president Julius Phiri said the media was perceived to be the enemy, who always looked to destroy the credibility of officers.

“Police and media relations have been a concern for both the police and the media for decades. Recently, in Kitwe, a police officer pointed a gun on a News Diggers! journalist and how to bridge that gap has puzzled brilliant minds because the media is believed to be the enemy, who is always looking to destroy the credibility of officers. And media feels that law enforcement is always hiding information,” he explained.

Phiri thanked Bloggers of Zambia for such platforms and urged it to continue with a lot of fora to ensure mutual understanding between the police and journalists was upheld.

The participants in attendance were drawn from Chadiza, Lundazi and Petauke districts of Eastern Province.

Among the resolutions of the police-media indaba was that police and journalists should enhance their communication in order to improve sharing and access to information, both to develop understanding of each other’s individual roles and responsibilities in Zambia’s fledgling democracy to co-exist and trust each other for the benefit of the masses.