Last Monday evening, some unruly PF cadres attacked Iso FM Radio in Isoka District by throwing a container of an unknown gas into the studio as a live phone-in programme was being aired on which UPND president Hakainde Hichilema was featuring. A few days earlier, PF cadres disrupted another radio programme in Muchinga Province where the opposition leader was featuring. That was before he was barred from accessing another radio station in Mpika where he was scheduled to take part in a discussion.
These are not isolated incidences. Exactly one year ago, we had a series of attacks on media houses by PF cadres. In Chipata, Eastern Province, a horde of PF cadres led by their provincial executive leader, stormed Radio Maria, threatening to burn down the station for featuring Mr Maxon Nkhoma. The cadres also issued death threats against Radio Maria news editor Tobias Daka because he featured on his radio programme someone who was an opposing member of the PF intra-party elections. They wanted his blood because he held 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 after those incidences, the chief executive officer 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 did not give favourable coverage to the party in power, and, ultimately, Prime TV was shut down for failure to emulate ZNBC’s news agenda.
Examples are many. From 2016 to-date, journalists and media institutions in Zambia have been under siege. These have been the years in which politicians reported the news that they wanted the public to hear, while journalists were on the run. In some instances, this government has succeeded to pit journalist against journalist, media house against another, leaving the entire media fraternity fragmented.
We feel the incidences that have happened in Muchinga Province 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. We recall just three weeks ago when we were celebrating Word Press Freedom Day, the Ministry of Information made a proclamation saying, “the fact that no journalist is in prison means there is abundant media freedom in Zambia.” What a way to gauge press freedom!
Now, to anyone who believed that propaganda, they have to look at what is happening in Muchinga. And we are only months away from the campaigns leading to next year’s general election. Can the PF be said to be friendly to the media? No, we don’t think so. The incidences in Isoka, Mpika, Chipata, Kabwe and elsewhere are proof that the party in power views the media as enemy number one; they hate the work of journalists, they don’t want divergent views from critics because they don’t like hearing the truth.
This further confirms our previous editorial opinions that in Zambia, journalists report at their 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. We may not point at a journalist who is still in prison, but the reality is that our 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.
Journalists in Zambia today are captured by the consequences that have been attached to press freedom. Government authorities claim to have given people the freedom of expression, but there is no freedom after expression. They say you are free to gather and broadcast your news, but they want to write the news themselves and control what goes in the newspapers.
Our worry is that the PF’s record of press freedom tolerance is already very bad, and any efforts to push it further will result in ‘mysterious’ deaths of journalists. A few years ago, we would say this fear is a little too far-fetched, but in today’s Africa where money and power means everything, anything can happen.
We have noted that any media house that gives HH a platform is PF’s enemy number one. Almost all media houses that have been closed down, this has been the crime. This is because the PF doesn’t want a level-playing field. While the ruling party president has exclusive access to public media, they don’t want his rivals to have access to private media. What kind of democracy is that?
How can a democratic society tolerate gassing of a radio station? Why do they want to kill the journalists at Iso FM? Why do they want to kill the UPND president? Is Muchinga not part of Zambia? Why must it be a no-go area for the opposition? This kind of lawlessness needs to be condemned in the strongest terms! We are waiting to hear a report of people being arrested and prosecuted for this violent behaviour.
Meanwhile , the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) must equally be condemned for taking the side of the thugs in this situation. How can the IBA say, “if you don’t want to be beaten by cadres, record the programme which you want to air?” What kind of advice is that? That is like a police officer advising a GBV victim that you should be wearing thick undergarments so that it shouldn’t be too painful when your husband beats you up! Only in a banana republic would that advice make sense. Shame on IBA and MISA-Zambia for supporting that folly suggestion!