Last week, the national broadcaster ran a news report, which annoyed Southern Province Police Commissioner Bonny Kapeso. According to the police chief, the story contained false and alarming information capable of disturbing public peace.
The summary of the background is that some rural towns in Southern Province; including Gwembe, Dundumwezi and Sinazongwe, have been ravaged by hired assassins or gangs called the “Karavinas” who have been shooting people with home-made guns. The murder statistics from these cases have been frightening to the extent that members of parliament took Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo to task in the House this year, demanding his immediate intervention.
So, last week, Southern Province Permanent Secretary Mwangala Liomba visited Sinazongwe District in the company of journalists to, among other things, get first-hand information about the escalating cases of murder in the area. Sinazongwe District Commissioner Protacio Mulenga took the honour of updating the superior government official with statistical data regarding the number of fatal shootings that had occurred, as far as he was concerned.
“The number of people that has been shot by the caravinas is close to 40 since the beginning of this year. Our police officers in the district, they really don’t have vehicles. The district is so big with a population of close to 130,000 people but there is lack of man power in security,” reported DC Mulenga.
But the Southern Province police chief did not take kindly to this report, because he felt it was a clear case of misinformation; charging that there were no such statistics. Mr Kapeso went further to issue a statement rubbishing the ZNBC story and threatening to summon the reporter for questioning.
“That information did not come from the police. Let’s just agree that, as journalists, let’s always verify information because we are trained. The reporter could have just phoned me in order to balance the story. I’m in charge of police, including Sinazongwe, and I have said that information did not come from police. If it came from us, why would I refute our own information? PS and DC are not trained in journalism. You are there to ensure a balanced story is written. If I were your editor, I would not run your story until it’s verified by competent authorities,” said Mr Kapeso.
“I will not relent on this subject because I am a journalist. Our brother quoted the DC, but the point is that, he should have balanced the story! ‘If the DC said so, what did the police responsible for security say?’ Not everything that glitters is gold. The last paragraph should have reflected police position on those alarming statistics because alarming the nation is a criminal offence! We may even call him for questioning to help us with such investigations.”
We know that ZNBC, as a national broadcaster, has a lot of objectivity problems in its reporting. When it comes to political news, believing what is aired on ZNBC news is at viewer’s risk. This is a television station that has learnt the art of misquoting facts and misinforming the nation.
However, on this Sinazongwe report, we have challenges agreeing with Mr Kapeso. The Southern Province police chief is trying to hide his own poor performance in crime prevention and in the process, attacking a defenceless ZANIS journalist who produced the ZNBC news story. Mr Kapeso cannot charge the journalist with the offence of alarming the nation, while at the same time admitting that the reporter quoted the District Commissioner accurately.
Why is Mr Kapeso so angry that his side of the story was not told as if the journalist accused him of being a gang leader of the Karavinas? When the DC was reporting the murder statistics to the permanent secretary, the local police station officer in charge was present in the meeting. If the DC lied, why was Mr Kapeso’s subordinate just sitting ndwii without correcting the report?
We are interested in this matter because all of us as journalists have had similar problems with the police, especially provincial commissioners. In many instances, when a government official, such as minister, issues a statement bordering on security that we feel is exaggerated or inaccurate, we always rush to these same police commanders for clarity; but they never want to contradict what the government people have said.
Take the abduction of the Lusaka Mayor by PF thugs last month, for example. Mr Miles Sampa told not only us, but the BBC too, that he had reported his abduction to the police, and an investigation had been launched. But when government gauged that the development was going to be an embarrassment to the ruling party, the provincial minister announced that there was no such report of abduction reported at any police station in Lusaka.
We got in touch with relevant police commands, both at Headquarters and Lusaka Division, but no one was willing to disagree with Mr Bowman Lusambo’s statement. Understandably so, the police feared that journalists would quote contradicting statements from two government wings.
So, we can simplify to Mr Kapeso what his statement means. He is plainly calling the DC and the PS as incompetent government officials who simply cooked up statistics from their dreams and fed the information to the journalist who didn’t care to verify. But if the reporter writes that story stating that, “Mr Kapeso has accused the PS and DC of being incompetent authorities”, he will be the first one to call the journalist unprofessional.
Readers may wish to know that although Mr Kapeso was rubbishing the murder statistics under his nose, the facts are actually worse than the DC reported; and these are confessed by the police commissioner himself.
“What is true is that, from January to-date, police in Southern Province have recorded 68 cases of murder throughout the province with 38 arrests made out of those reported to us. These murder cases do not only involve shootings, but also incidents of deaths arising from gender-based violence; ordinary fights and spearing of suspects regarding issues of land wrangles, and suspected practice of witchcraft as well as issues of infidelity, among married couples,” stated Kapeso.
So, what is the problem here? Bwana Kapeso, sir, stop blaming the journalist for your own bad crime prevention record. It really matters less if it’s 20 people or 40 people who have been killed. It doesn’t matter if 10 of those who were shot had infidelity problems; the question is; how many have you successfully prosecuted for gun violence in Southern Province? If these guns are hand-made, have you identified the manufacturer? Those are the problems you must be worried about. Being talkative is not a reflection of one’s proficiency – get to work!