Don’t gag media, let Lungu hear criticism

The Inspector General of Police Mr Kakoma Kanganja says “During this period of Threatened State of Emergency, police will regulate and prohibit publications and dissemination of matters which are prejudicial to public safety”. We are very curious about how the police will implement this call.

How will the police regulate the media during this period? Does the Inspector General intend to deploy police officers into newsrooms? We are curious to understand how the IG and his police officers will judge what is newsworthy for newspapers to publish. We are eager to know how police officers will regulate what radio stations and television stations broadcast.

We wonder whether the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which is mandated to do that job, will be suspended during this period, or the Police command will form its own “hostile media” taskforce.

We would have thought the IBA officers were better positioned to help the police achieve their objective because they are journalists and they understand what is news and what is unethical reporting. Of course, the IBA is also just a tool in the hands of the ‘almighty’ President, but at least they don’t use guns to regulate TVs and Radio Stations.

If the Inspector General wants to send police officers to various newsrooms to scrutinise news before it is disseminated, they might as well takeover the role of conducting interviews so that they educate and warn our news sources about what they can and cannot say.

This would make our work a lot easier. But of course we know that the police do not have the capacity to do this. To us, this sounded like a threat. This sounded like the Inspector General was issuing an arrest warrant on any journalist who publishes or airs voices of those criticising the President. This message seemed to be targeting journalists from perceived hostile private media.

But the Inspector General is being unfair on the President of the Republic of Zambia. By issuing this threat on the media, Mr Kanganja is blocking the ears of the President; leaving him to only see things as they appear to him without the benefit of hearing what the people he is governing are actually saying. This is a dangerous way of governing and it will only fuel more and more tension. The Inspector General must allow the President to hear criticism through the media, not only through intelligence briefings and police reports.

Before declaring a Threatened State of Emergency, the President knew that doing so would label him a dictator; and he asked Zambians in advance, to pardon him for acting like one. If the IG stops the media from reporting freely, how will the President know whether or not citizens have pardoned him for acting like a dictator?

We would like to remind the Inspector General of Police that the media in Zambia is already stretched, it is already regulated beyond what one would imagine under a democracy. It is important for Mr Kanganja to realise that the private media in Zambia is not a political rival of the PF government. What should worry Mr Kanganja is not what Mike Mulongoti says in the newspaper or what GBM says on TV, because those he can arrest any time and throw them in prison without question, like he has already demonstrated on Hakainde Hichilema. The IG, however, must be worried about those within the system who don’t agree with his deeds and those of the Head of State.

An example of what must concern the IG is the leaked audio of a phone conversation between himself and Mr Amos Chanda, the President’s Spokesperson – where the State House official was instructing the Police commander to use force and to be brutal on the opposition. We waited to hear Mr Chanda or Mr Kanganja call a press conference to rubbish that recording as fake, but it never happened. It’s probably too late to argue about the immorality contained in that recording, but we urge the IG to focus on investigating that matter and announcing his findings to the public instead of regulating the already threatened media.

It does not help the Inspector General in any way to fool people by claiming, through word of mouth, that police officers under his charge are professional when everyone in the country knows it is not true. Police under Mr Kanganja are a sham and they apply the law selectively according to political affiliation of offenders and one’s standing in society.

On June 16, Lusaka Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu held a press conference where the Catholic Bishops demanded the immediate release of UPND leader HH. On June 23, police arrested UPND officials in Mongu at their secretariat for ATTEMPTING to demand the release of their leader. We immediately contacted Mr Kanganja’s spokesperson, Esther Katongo, and asked her to explain why Archbishop Mpungu was not arrested or if police were investigating him. Katongo responded by saying “I don’t have that information”.

But the truth is that Archbishop Mpundu is a very powerful leader of the Catholic Church and police know that arresting him would be like shooting the President in the foot. In this case, the law applied only on the poor UPND officials in Mongu because they are political rivals of the ruling party. So where is the Professionalism among police that Mr Kanganja is preaching about?

That is why citizens are worried that police officers will abuse the extra powers that have been given to them. There is no guarantee that the police will not target PF political enemies under the Threatened State of Emergency. For us as journalists, there is nothing we can do to stop the IG with his excessive powers, but we would like to remind him that the root of all evil is power; and the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.

         

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