Press freedom and democracy

David Young says the cherished freedom of the press is under threat in Zambia from incidents of political intimidation and harassment of journalists.

He says Zambia has benefited from nearly three decades of largely peaceful multiparty politics, with two peaceful transfers of power.

“This democratic foundation rests upon a free press. But today we see that this cherished freedom is under threat in Zambia from incidents of political intimidation and harassment of journalists. Some Zambian media outlets have been forced to shut down around the country because of violence,” notes Young. “Video footage has shown us frightening images of political party cadres breaking into radio stations, threatening opposition party leaders, and stopping radio programmes live on the air. Lives and careers are put at risk, and journalists pull back from doing their jobs. Democracy is the loser.”

The last few years have been very challenging for the media and we can only hope for a positive change.

As the Media Liaison Committee put it during the World Press Freedom, “It is no secret that journalists have suffered intimidation, harassment and violent attacks from overzealous thugs all in the name of being political party cadres. These cadres in most cases claim they are from the ruling party. We have also had incidents where cadres from opposition political parties have also been culprits. In just a couple of months, Zambia will be going for a general election and we see ourselves in the media as sitting ducks for the cadres to wilfully attack while carrying out our noble duty of reporting. It is unfortunate that in most instances, journalists are attacked in full view of police officers. And while our people get attacked, these police officers look elsewhere and pretend that they do not see what goes on. It is a very sad situation that our own police cannot protect us even when the law requires them to do so. However, not all hope is lost because we are happy that some efforts have been made to try and see how best a journalist can be protected during the forthcoming elections…. Mr President, we need your voice as Head of State to continue calling for peaceful elections. As President, you are a leader for all and therefore your voice for peace, your call for peaceful elections and your call to protect the journalist shall be taken seriously. Further, we ask that you engage your cadres to respect our work and our dignity. On this score, we also ask your colleagues in the opposition to speak to their cadres too. […]On the other hand, Your Excellency, our tears are still flowing as a result of the closure of Prime Television and we still remain unconvinced by reasons advanced by your government for this closure through the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). And we may not be convinced in the long time to come. We are aware, Mr President, that even after re-applying for their operating licence as advised by (IBA), Prime TV was denied the licence. Yet, a good number of new television stations were granted licences without struggle. We therefore ask, what sin did Prime Television commit that can never be forgiven by our government? This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme is: Information as a Public Good. But are we doing any good to the public by shutting down some media houses? Is this the kind of press freedom and freedom of expression that we are aspiring for as a nation? It is under the Patriotic Front regime that media institutions have been closed for political reasons; and this fact cannot be twisted. Of course, as media, we shall always seek to disseminate information for public good. And in our quest to do that, we realise that we shall face many challenges, especially from those who do not understand and appreciate the nature of our work. It is never in our interest to malign or defame any member of society. If we do that, our ethics always demand that we make amends by either retracting or presenting facts as they should be.