Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Zambia
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||3 May 2002|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - Zambia, 3 May 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/487c5232c.html [accessed 22 September 2014]|
The country's most well-known journalist was arrested after calling the state president a thief. He is liable to three years' imprisonment. The independent press complains about threats and pressure from the ruling party and the government.
Relations between the authorities and the private-sector press are particularly tense. On 1 February 2001 the independent daily The Post noted in an editorial that President Frederik Chiluba had asked his ministers not to talk to reporters from the newspaper anymore. The editorial added that the daily did not agree to the president trying to "restrict [their] freedom to talk to any sources [they judged] necessary".
On 3 April the President of PAZA, the Press Association of Zambia, asked journalists in the country to refuse money from informers. He pointed out that the profession's image had been tarnished by the habits of certain journalists who accepted "bribes" from their interlocutors.
Early in the year public-sector media experienced a crisis of confidence. The public clearly preferred privately-owned newspapers and radio stations. In May the state president appointed a new information minister in an attempt to find a quick solution. Vernon Mwaanga immediately announced the dissolution of the board of governors of all government-controlled media. The new minister was thus trying to "revive the public's confidence in those media and allow journalists to renew their sense of responsibility".
Three journalists arrested
Ernest Mwape, correspondent for the privately-owned The Post, was arrested on 9 July 2001 in the Mpika district 300 km north of Lusaka. He was accused of publishing an article, a month earlier, about blunders by the local police. The police allegedly failed to adequately protect the property of the district administrator, Mulenga Supuni, whose house and car were damaged during student demonstrations. The journalist was released after a few hours and the police dropped charges on 13 July.
Police arrested Fred M'membe, editor-in-chief of The Post, on 17 August and took him to Lusaka central police station. He was accused of libel against the state president in an editorial published the same morning, headed "A thief for President". In the editorial Fred M'membe explained that Frederik Chiluba had "diverted money from legitimate purposes to his own personal use". The journalist also asked the following question: "How are people supposed to deal with a lying and thieving President?". In a press communiqué the editorial staff of The Post pointed out that no form of harassment and intimidation would prevent them from ensuring that those in power are accountable to the electorate. Fred M'membe was released on bail during the day but is liable to three years' imprisonment by virtue of Article 69 of the penal code. The next day the state president announced his intention to take appropriate legal measures to protect himself and the presidency from "political insinuations". A petition reaffirming that the president was a thief was immediately circulated in the streets of Lusaka and signed by over 3,000 persons. A few days later a warrant was issued for the arrest of Fred M'membe and a reporter from The Post, Bivan Saluseki. The two men handed themselves over to the police on 21 August. They left the police station a few hours later, after being charged with "libel" against the head of state. On 1 January 2002 they had still not been tried.
Pressure and obstruction
On 11 January 2001 the privately-owned daily The Post reported the pressure exerted on its journalists by the ruling MMD (Movement for Multiparty Democracy). The leader of the party youth league in the northern town of Ndola told journalists that if they did not change their attitude, the party would declare Ndola out of bounds for journalists and would even burn all copies of newspapers. This declaration followed a libel suit between a member of the ruling party and a member of the opposition in a sex case. The Post had covered the entire case.
Police questioned Chali Nondo, a journalist from the privately-owned daily The Monitor, and Stanford Hlazo, member of parliament with the opposition UPND (United Party for National Development) on 26 January. They accused them of publishing an article headed: "Kabila's death: a warning for advocates of the third mandate". In this article Mr. Hlazo expressed concern about possible disturbances if President Frederik Chiluba stood for election a third time whereas the Zambian constitution allows only two mandates. The journalist was questioned for an hour.
The Kitwe-based catholic radio station Radio Icengelo, in northern Zambia, stopped broadcasting on 27 May after a fire destroyed much of its equipment. According to MISA, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, this may have been arson with the intention of silencing the station. The inquiry reportedly revealed that a burning object was thrown through an open window. A few weeks prior to the incident Father Vas Milha and Father Daka, both close to the station, received anonymous telephone calls warning them that the radio station would be silenced.
Gershom Ndhlovu, news editor with the government newspaper Zambia Daily Mail, and Jonathan Bwalya, sub-editor, were dismissed on 24 July for publishing an article on the "disgrace" of the interior minister Peter Machungwa.
The government decided on 19 August to close down the privately-owned station Radio Phoenix. The authorities indicated that the station had not renewed its license in time. Radio Phoenix, founded in 1996, had become the main rival of the government-controlled Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). In particular, it had distinguished itself by airing the views of representatives of the opposition and of human rights organisations. On 18 September the authorities lifted the suspension after the radio station had paid a fine and renewed its license.
On 28 August the ZNBC programme manager asked for the suspension of the programme "Questions on the 2001 elections" scheduled on the national TV channel. This programme, produced by a coalition of non-governmental organisations, was to allow a panel of politicians to express themselves live on current events in the country. The ZNBC manager said that two opposition personalities invited to participate were "not qualified to inform and educate the public". In October the high court supported the charges laid by the NGO coalition against the public-sector channel. The presiding judge noted that "ZNBC should not use its monopoly on television to dictate the content of programmes to their producers".
About fifty MMD members swarmed into the Kitwe offices of Radio Icengelo on 10 November and interrupted the programmes. A former minister and member of the ruling party was in the middle of an interview about his new party. The politician and a journalist were manhandled.