After the embarrassing video went viral, showing the PF Secretary General Davies Mwila dressing down Prime TV journalists, and banning them from covering his press conference, the government, through the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, has stepped in to pacify public outrage.
Dora Siliya, who doubles as Chief Government spokesperson, is now seeking to reconcile the ruling party’s chief executive and the private media house. But in so doing, she has already taken a stance to trivialize and downplay the incident, claiming that the gravity of the matter is being exaggerated by opposition political parties.
“Government has observed with great concern that a simple misunderstanding between the Patriotic Front Secretary General and Prime TV journalists is being used for political mileage by some opposition leaders. The government is working very closely with media leaders to see the Media Council come into fruition with its greatest role being that of setting standards for journalists and also to protect journalists from those who may hinder their professional practice,” said Honourable Siliya.
“The matter at hand, which is an isolated incident, is merely a misunderstanding of which I believe will be resolved amicably. The PF Secretary General Hon. Davies Mwila is eager to meet with Prime TV to discuss the matter on Tuesday.”
We can see that the Minister has found herself in a very awkward position because Mr Mwila’s harassment of journalists has put a dent into her efforts to try and convince media stakeholders that she means well with her plans to impose mandatory media regulation in Zambia. This is the reason why she is saying a lot of nothing. Honourable Siliya has been championing for mandatory media regulation through a recently-formed media council called the Zambia Institute of Independent Media Alliance.
Under this government-controlled organization, which is trading as an “independent” body, the Minister has pledged to isolate the professionals from the rest, as well as protect journalists from those who may hinder their professional practice; people like Davies Mwila. The awkwardness of Mr Mwila’s case is that the Minister is trying to condemn the offence, but defend the offender.
Honourable Siliya cannot just say, “it’s a simple misunderstanding”. What misunderstanding is there? Mr Mwila explicitly gave his reasons for his decisive decision. He said Prime TV never covers his press conferences, so he wants them to stay away from the PF secretariat. So, what misunderstanding will he be resolving with Prime TV? Let the PF media team announce to the nation what transgression Prime TV has committed to deserve this harassment and threat, so that the public can judge if Mr Mwila was in order.
And even assuming that Mr Mwila had a good reason for disliking the editorial policy of Prime TV, how can he take his anger out on the innocent junior employees of the station who have no control of what is televised? We expected Honourable Siliya to be telling Mr Mwila, that there is a procedure for complaints enshrined in the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Act. The law says if you are aggrieved, you tender a formal complaint to the broadcast institution, which complaint is supposed to be addressed within 14 days, after which you can escalate the matter with to IBA, if not satisfied with the resolution.
If one chooses not to waste time with reporting a complaint to the Independent Broadcasting Authority; or in an event that the media house in question does not fall under the regulation of the IBA, there is an express route of litigation. There is no need to physically attack the journalists. If Prime TV has been airing false and malicious news against the PF Secretary General or his party, he is free to drag the TV station to court. But Mr Mwila has failed to lead by example. So, we will not be fooled into sleep by the lullaby that the Minister of Information is singing to the aggrieved media practitioners.
What the Chief Government Spokesperson is failing to say is that Mr Mwila was wrong and Prime TV deserves an apology. Why is Honourable Siliya afraid to rebuke the PF Secretary General? It is because under this government, the ruling party official is senior; the Chief Government Spokesperson reports to him? So, since Mwila said: “when I make a decision [to ban the journalists], it’s final!”, then there is nothing that Dora can tell him. But to minimize the damage on the so-called ZIIMA agenda, the Minister is trying to kill the case tactfully, without embarrassing her boss.
We want to use this opportunity to ask the donor community that has an interest in promoting a free press in Zambia; is this a government that can be trusted with mandatory and statutory media regulation? We want to ask our fellow private media operators who have excitedly welcomed the formation of a media regulation council; does this government leadership sound like it has any regard or consideration for private media houses? How safe are our journalists if their mere presence at a ruling party event is so irritating to those in power?
These are warning shots that have been fired by the Patriotic Front. Media operators, the international community and concerned Zambian citizens must know that the actions from Mr Mwila, in full view of his supporters, are a silent signal to PF cadres to start attacking Prime TV journalists, tomorrow it will be Muvi TV, next it will be News Diggers! By the time 2021 campaigns heat up, all the independent media houses will be completely silenced or shut down. Shame on Dora and her boss, Mwila!