OPINION: On banning Facebook, PF is dreaming loudly

The PF government has continued creating laws which suit their enjoyment while on top; laws which will haunt them immediately they leave power. We are not talking about laws which will torture PF as an opposition party, because they will be too scattered to be called a party when they are kicked out, but we are talking about laws that will be used to persecute them as individual “former ministers”.

When another party takes over government and its state machinery, heads will roll, legs will feeble and stomachs will be running. There will be no laws left for them to rely on in order to plead for public sympathy and natural justice. The PF are mounting a cross to which they will be nailed through a painful crucifixion for their deeds while in government.

Minister of Transport and Communication Honourable Brian Mushimba says if social media abuses like cyber bullying, fake news and creating false accounts to insult the President continues among netizens, government will have no option but to ban social media.

“It is getting out of hand and it is a national security concern, we may take the route that others have taken. If you have been to China, if you have been to Ethiopia, there are restrictions to certain sites you can go to and certain things you can do,” said Mushimba on Radio.

We can take a while asking the minister to explain what kind of democracy is in those countries he has mentioned; what kind of human rights exist and how many citizens of those nations are running away from their countries to find peace and jobs in Zambia; but we will instead focus on helping the minister understand why people are abusing social media. Sir, the reason why citizens have turned to Facebook to air their grievances is because your government has closed the established channels of communication which were there before. They are frustrated and they are trying to vent their anger at your leadership.

And by the way minister, if you think Chinese and Ethiopian citizens don’t have access to social media, you are wrong. You failed to access social media while you were there because your hosts are the ones who imposed the draconian law and convinced themselves that they succeeded. Next time you go to Addis Ababa for the African Union, Honourable Minister, and you wish to engage in social intercourse, contact us and we will tell you what to do.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that banning Facebook can easily be achievable. Do you even know how much money the Facebook owners make from sponsored posts paid by Zambian businesses? You think enterprises in this country will sit idle while you kill such a huge advertising platform? No minister, if you had consulted widely, experts would have told you to work with the Facebook Team and see how government could benefit from their Anti Fake News campaign.

Our opinion is that, you are running away from the real problem here. This government has killed Trade Unions, but people want to be heard. As things stand today, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions can hold a press conference without government worrying about what would be said. They don’t even send ba shushushu (Intelligence Officers) to go and sniff around for possible revolts. If anything, government agents probably call the union leaders directly to get a report of what they said; and it would not even surprise us if after addressing their members, the union leaders actually call State House on their own to provide a recording of what they said. If they do, they do that out of fear of victimisation.

This government has silenced the voice of critical media and imposed a very short lifespan on existing ones. They have placed landmines around their corrupt offices so that any media house that moves closer to exposing their criminality dies instantly. If the independent media space was guaranteed in Zambia, journalists were not going to go into hiding in order to report news.

News Diggers! prides itself of being Zambia’s first legally and formally registered online news medium with a publishing certificate from the government, but we certainly don’t have the monopoly of all the news that needs to reach the public. Yes, our news packaging is purely professional and very believable, but in a liberalised society, citizens must be allowed to chose from various sources of news and make their own judgment.

With all their weaknesses and whatever agenda they may be pursuing, the Zambianwatchdog have published so many informative revelations of corruption, theft and abuse of office among other scandals in this government. The same is the case with Zambia Reports, Lusaka Times, The Observer, Mwebanthu and so many other social media news outlets. We may not agree with their style of journalism, but they play a significant role in reaching areas where traditional mainstream media may not. What they bring out, more often than not has outright public interest. But all these have been forced to anonymously practice what we hear they call “guerrilla journalism”.

Now, if what the Minister of Communication wants to achieve by banning Facebook, is to punish the so-called guerrilla journalists for publishing ‘fake news’, he is wasting his little time remaining in office. People who run these clandestine Facebook news pages are not small boys in the game. They may not be as professional, but they are not dull. They have been doing this for many years, long before the PF went into government. Presidents have come and gone, ministers have been hired and fired yet they still exist. During his reign as information minister, Honourable Chishimba Kambwili vowed to bring the FBI, if that was what it would take to switch off the Zambianwatchdog; it has been years now, but the dog is still out there barking with energy. They have tried to follow them in the foreign countries where they hide in operation, but they have yielded nothing.

The people and organisations which will suffer when the PF bans Facebook are those that have followed the law and adopted the use of social media to disseminate information in a professional manner. Honourable Mushimba has congratulated News Diggers! and guided us to remain a professional media house, just like the Broadcasting Minister Mulenga Kampamba and so many other Cabinet ministers have done. Banning Facebook will delete the blueprint of ethical online journalism; it will affect, not only News Diggers! but Smart Eagles as well, where Honourable Mushimba and PF ministers appear every day on live streaming.

If the PF government is not happy with what citizens write about President Edgar Lungu on Facebook, the easier way out would be to tell the Head of State to stop doing what citizens don’t like. The difficult approach would be to follow each of the 1,500,000 Facebook users, monitor how they use the Internet, identify those who abuse social media and bring them to book. But punishing everybody who is on Facebook is nothing less than foolish. That’s an abuse of state power.

Look minister, there are known crooks and criminals whom you eat and dine with in Cabinet, but citizens have never demanded that all of you as ministers are arrested for the misconduct of one minister. In the same vein, the President cannot fire all the ministers and dissolve Cabinet just because he believes that one of them is corrupt. Logic demands that you follow the culprit and punish them.

This government has abolished colleges and university students’ unions; which platform does Minister Mushimba expect the students to use in order to communicate the problems affecting their studies? The Minister of Higher Education Prof Nkandu Luo knows that after she abolished unions, students turned to social media to air their grievances. That is why she is even proud to say, “I use a fake name to monitor what students post on Facebook”.

Now, if they go ahead and ban Facebook, the PF government must prepare for more riots and civil unrests because, one way of another, people will have to find a way of voicing out, legally or illegally. That’s how human beings operate – when you prevent the mouth from releasing the toxic gas, it finds its way out through the other end. By banning Facebook, what Minister Mushimba is doing, is like trying to heal a cholera patient by sealing off the diarrhea exit. It won’t work, sh**t will still find its way out!

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