On Wednesday night, a horde of PF cadres led by their provincial executive leader for Eastern Province, stormed Radio Maria in Chipata, threatening to burn down the station for featuring Mr Maxon Nkhoma, a governance activist and supporter of aspiring provincial chairman Elias Banda (Eliboma).
The cadres also issued death threats against Radio Maria news editor Tobias Daka because he featured on his radio programme, someone who is an ‘opposition’ member of the PF intraparty elections. They wanted his blood because he holds a divergent view on political issues in the region.
A few days earlier, another gang of PF thugs in Central Province descended on Power FM Radio in Kabwe, Central Province to fish out NDC president Chishimba Kambwili because while on Radio, the opposition leader was condemning corruption and theft of public resources by those who have been elected to serve the people.
Not too long ago from these incidences, the chief executive of the Patriotic Front Mr Davies Mwila was filmed scolding and hounding out a Prime TV news crew that went to cover his press conference at the ruling party secretariat. This was for the simple reason that the TV station does not give favourable coverage to the party in power, and indeed Prime TV was shut down for failure to emulate ZNBC’s news agenda.
In the face of this hostile media climate, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting says Zambia is the freest country in Africa where press freedom is concerned. As we commemorate World Press Freedom Day today, we will hear more of such pronouncements by the Minister in charge of the news media and his government officials. But anyone who lives in this country can agree that declaring Zambia the freest state on the continent in terms of press freedom is a joke that is funny only to a few big-headed government leaders.
We feel these incidences in Kabwe and Chipata could not have happened at a more appropriate time than now when the PF government is trying to paint a picture that the operating environment for journalists and media practitioners is perfect. To anyone who was still doubting, the attacks on Power FM and Radio Maria is proof that the party in power views the media as enemy number one; they hate the work of journalists because they don’t like hearing the truth.
This further confirms our editorial opinions that in Zambia, journalists report at own risk. Whoever stands up to reflect the mirror image of how the country is being governed, must also be ready to go down as an individual. Whichever media house chooses to offer a platform to those whose voices are critical of government must be ready to go down as an institution.
Of course here in Zambia, our journalists are not being killed, but the reality is that their editorial independence is rotting in the grave – it died a long time ago. We are physically alive, but our journalism spirit is dead because we live in constant fear of what might happen to our lives and careers if we reported things as they are. It really hurts to feed the public only a fraction of the news that it deserves to consume.
The question facing journalists today therefore is: why are we celebrating our captivity on our Freedom Day? Journalists in Zambia today are captured by the consequences that have been attached to Press Freedom. It’s like a parent holding a whip in the hand and telling you to repeat what you just said. That’s the kind of freedom that the PF is giving to the media in Zambia and those who criticize government leaders. They let you say what you wish to say on radio, while sending their cadres to rearrange your teeth once you come out of the studio.
This is no way to govern a democratic country. The anti-private media rhetoric employed by the current administration, of which we have been speaking against all these years, is really sickening. There is no one left to protect a brave journalist.
But even though we have no reason to celebrate the foundational principles of a Free Press today, we would like to encourage support towards the media and honour those journalists who have lost their lives or gotten injured in the pursuit of truth. We may not celebrate press freedom, but we have cause to celebrate the dedicated and inspirational fight that our fellow media practitioners have put up to keep the masses informed.
We would like to Honour the strong spirited journalists who have been sent to jail, like Mr Derrick Sinjela, on account of draconian laws. We would like to salute those colleagues in the media who have stood up against this oppressive regime, like Mr Gerald Shawa and his Prime TV staff. We have nothing but respect to Power FM, Radio Maria and other news organisations across the country that have continued to operate under a very unfriendly environment. You are our heroes.
Abash PF thuggery! Shame on the oppressor of Press Freedom!