ALLIANCE for Democracy and Development (ADD) president Charles Milupi has described attempts to shut down News Diggers! Media Limited as a desperate effort to muzzle press freedom and prevent thorough investigations on abuse of public funds.
And Milupi has urged Zambians to awaken from their slumber and help progressive anti-corruption organisations, like the independent news media, fight graft in public interest.
In an interview, Milupi said that it was irregular for NAPSA to ask an employer to submit documents detailing contributions made to the pensions authority at the request of another private sector company, Honeybee Pharmacy Limited.
He, however, counselled News Diggers! staff not to be intimidated regardless of the State’s numerous manoeuvres to try and shut down the tabloid.
“These are serious threats towards News Diggers! You know, Tutwa Ngulube (Kabwe Central PF member of parliament), and the others are trying to threaten you so that you go easy on exposing them. NAPSA cannot task a contributor or an employer what their state of affairs is because they have the files. NAPSA officers are the ones who receive payments. So, it is irregular for NAPSA to write to an employer that, ‘what is your status of NAPSA payment?’ They have the status! Similarly, ZRA (Zambia Revenue Authority) cannot write to a company and say, ‘what is the status of your company’s tax returns?’ Because they have got tax returns. It’s either they have or they haven’t. So, this is a desperation measure to try to put people off the trail. In any case, we are aware that media organisations that reveal the truth and do what they are supposed to do as a fourth estate to force those that are in power to account because the other bodies that are supposed to do that are not like Parliament, like the Judiciary,” Milupi said.
“So, a heavy load rests on the independent media and News Diggers! is an example. News Diggers! has done a fantastic job because without News Diggers! we wouldn’t have heard of Honeybee. US $17 million would have gone down the drain. We wouldn’t have heard the issues at NAPSA. I even wonder what you, as News Diggers! have been sued for? We wouldn’t have heard of the latest…Now, this Marcopolo (Marcopolo Tiles Company Ltd.) and we wouldn’t have heard the spread that you have given. We wouldn’t have heard of the full strikes of the issues that have come up. So, you have done excellent in making these people account. So, any media organisation that intends to do your job properly, you must know that you will stumble on these things. They will come on you with full force and it’s now a question of commitment to say, ‘do you reveal them or do you keep quiet and shut up?’”
He hailed News Diggers! as a media institution that would always be held in high esteem due to its achievements in just a few years.
“News Diggers! you have the internal glory and that is why those of us who want the government to account hold News Diggers! in high esteem. Under those circumstances, there will be those people that will want to close you down, which is what they want to do now purely for the sake of silencing you. What they are doing is criminal! But don’t be intimidated no! no! no! and I call upon Zambians. Most of the time we leave the people that are doing their jobs so well, we leave them alone. We leave those who are fighting corruption alone, we leave independent media organisations alone. Because this is like a Goliath fighting you and you are a David and you don’t even have a sling. At least David had a sling,” he said.
And Milupi urged citizens to wake up from their slumber and help progressive anti-corruption organisations fight graft in public interest.
“And most Zambians are docile! We just shake our heads and we move on, I mean, this is what happened with the PostNewspaper; this is what happened with Prime TV. We can’t just keep on watching this trend go on let’s help News Diggers! fight! In other countries, there would have been an uprising right now. We were silent when they closed the Postand we lost the Post. We were silent when they threatened Prime TV and they closed Prime TV. Let’s stop this docility and let’s help News Diggers! fight because, then, we will have no one to help us make these people account,” said Milupi.
Although NAPSA had written to Diggers! asking for the company’s particulars and details relating membership contributions and compliance, among others, the ZRA had since advised Ngulube, the Honeybee lawyer, that it could not divulge tax information from one organisation to another without a court order or express permission from the relevant party as tax matters are confidential.