Police can’t protect journalists since they have worse problems

Vice-President Inonge Wina is calling on the Zambia Police Service to put up security mechanisms specifically aimed at protecting journalists especially during elections. The Vice-President observed that news reporters become endangered species when they go out to cover elections and related activities.

Madam Wina said this in Parliament after Kanchibiya member of Parliament Dr Martin Malama, who also happens to be former Inspector General of Police, expressed concern over the safety of journalists in their line of duty following the beating of Zambia Daily Mail reporters who went to cover elections in Katuba Constituency last month.

INONGE Wina: “Mr Speaker, attacks on journalists are not only cowardice. These journalists are simply men and women who are exercising their constitutional mandate as well as performing their duties as professionals to report on issues that they want to communicate to the general public. Mr Speaker, crimes against journalists have no place in a democratic society such as ours and should not be condoned by anyone. It seems journalists have become an endangered species.”

“The police should devise mechanisms to enhance the protection of journalists especially during the periods of elections because this is becoming a norm, where a journalist is sent to cover issues at a polling station and they are being attacked. Mr Speaker, this should come to an end. Journalists are doing their work and should not be targets of violence.”

The Vice-President is right, unfortunately, she is wrong! She is right to say that violent acts against journalists are beyond signs of cowardice. It is simply foolish thinking by political hooligans who are hungry for blood. These hooligans are not only from the ruling party; they also feature prominently among the youths in the opposition. Regardless of their political affiliation, they are just a bunch of thugs with impaired reasoning.

Those who beat up our colleagues from Zambia Daily Mail, Jack Zimba and Stephen Mvula, we are told, are Patriotic Front supporters. This is the same party that lost the Katuba parliamentary by-election. So how did the beating of journalists help them? How many votes did they get by breaking a vehicle, beating the news reporters and stealing their items?

It is simply foolishness. There is no better way of describing political parties that think beating journalists can help them win elections. Why waste your campaign energy on sorting out one voter who doesn’t even vote, because even during general elections, journalists are seriously disenfranchised? We are only there to serve the public and the same public office seekers. It is a senseless act of hooliganism to attack journalists.

So Vice-President Wina is right to call for the protection of journalists, especially during elections. But she is wrong to expect that protection to come from the police. The police have no capacity to protect journalists because they fear burning their fingers. Most of the journalists’ beatings are sponsored by senior members of political parties, so there is very little that police can do, especially if the attackers are from the ruling party.

The current Commissioner of Police for Lusaka Province is on record telling a group of journalists who were under attack from the PF cadres during the 2016 election campaign to run because police officers were not going to protect them. He categorically advised them to protect themselves and move away from the area where they were being targeted. Does that sound like a policeman who can be entrusted with the protection of journalists? Certainly not!

Unfortunately, following the ill-treatment of police officers who were deployed to the Sesheke by-election, we are seeing an increasing number of cases where police officers fold their arms while violence takes shape under their nose. They don’t want to act because they don’t know who they may be offending. That is why PF cadres attacked Jack and Stephen in full view of the police.

So we can’t rely on the police to protect journalists because their problems are worse than those faced by news reporters. In our view, the only meaningful protection that journalists need is from the political parties themselves. We need to see political will from political players to protect journalists.

It is sad that whenever journalists are beaten, no political party takes the blame. PF will never investigate who beat these journalists and damaged their vehicle. This case has been closed by both the police and the PF leadership. They want to protect the thugs because that is the job they have employed them to do.

So, as long as political parties don’t stand up to not only condemn violence by its members, but also find the perpetrators, journalists will continue to be beaten by the cadres. This is the predicament that we are faced with in Zambia, and unfortunately, the attacks come from all directions. Those who beat up Zambia Daily Mail journalists are from PF, but the UPND is also guilty of beating up a Human Rights Commission official.

We say to both PF and UPND: stop the hooliganism, cage your thugs.

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