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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Is Press Freedom Falling in Zambia?

Think Africa Press has an interesting article, 'Zambia's Online Media: Under Attack and on the Attack'. Excerpt below :
There are journalists in Zambia – such as Voice of America correspondent Chanda Chimba – who say all this amounts to a massive regression in the country’s human rights profile, all at the hands of President Sata. But others describe a shifting set of frictions between government and media that changes shape and direction as different parties and presidents rise and fall from power.

Certainly, Sata and his Patriotic Front (PF) party did not invent press oppression in Zambia – even though he uses the country’s criminal code to attack opponents, and his supporters harass and intimidate reporters in the field. Indeed, RWB ranked Zambia 72 out of 179 for press freedom in 2013, up from 86 in 2012 and 104 a decade ago. CPJ and RWB keep archives detailing years of anti-media manoeuvres perpetrated by successive governments, and the litany is long.

For instance, in 2011, a few months before Sata came to power, Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) supporters violently attacked a Muvi TV news crew reporting on illegal land seizures and distributions. In 2009, Rupiah Banda’s MMD government pressed obscenity charges against then-Zambian Post news editor Chansa Kabwela after she sent the vice-president photos of a woman giving birth in a hospital parking lot during a staff strike.

In 2010, Post editor Frank M’membe was arrested and sentenced to four months hard labour (but ultimately released) for an editorial he wrote criticising Banda’s government. Five years before, M’membe was charged with defamation after criticising late MMD president Levy Mwanawasa. Mwanawasa also once tried to deport satirist Roy Clarke for lampooning him in print.

The previous regime of Frederick Chiluba had its own rap sheet of violations, and while some note that founding president Kenneth Kaunda’s one-party state neutralised partisan politics in the media, he was not without his own repressive tendencies too.

However, now that Sata and the PF are in power, many say The Post has lost its critical edge. The political landscape has shifted, so much so that Kabwela – once a thorn in the government’s side – was appointed as press attaché to Zambia’s High Commission in Malawi. The relative absence of a critical press left a void, says Kazoka, which was quickly filled by online entities like Zambian Watchdog. The problem is that, while certainly critical, the online press is sometimes overly provocative and lacking in ethics.
The are three broad conclusions I draw from this.  First, press freedom has generally improved over the years in general. It would be foolish to deny that. Particularly if you factor in the growth in local radio stations and more media outlets - as well as more coverage of the opposition on ZNBC outlets. It's not perfect but it is improving. I speak as someone who has faced opposition for writing in the past and therefore understands the cost of writing.

Second, the expectations of the public are now greater . The rise of social media and Internet access means that any suppression of free expression is magnified. Zambians now rightly expect more from their government than they did in the past. This is demonstrated by the general disgust over recent blockades against Watchdog and Zambia Reports. Zambians now see opposition to these media outlets as a vote of confidence in them. Attacking them only makes them more popular and increases their funding base. The PF has not yet grasped that we are living in a different world now as far as expectations of freedom are concern. The tide is unstoppable

Finally, we can't rely on traditional journalists to safeguard freedom. As the politics become more polarised and PF feels more under pressure from online media expect its deeper relationship with The Post to continue as part of media control strategy. Also it means that we shall continue to see the Daily Mail and the Times of Zambia as nothing more as mouth pieces of the party of government. This will continue until such a time that we reach high saturation of Internet access when such the party in government recognises the economic and political folly of maintaining a state funded propaganda machinery given the multiple sources of information that would be available to citizens.

Question : is press freedom on the decline in Zambia? How complicit is the the state media journalists in the current political hold over the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia? Share your comments below. 

Chola Mukanga | Economist | Writer
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013


  1. Zambia is now a tough place to be a journalist

    just a symptomatic example... 3 journalists refused to deal with wrongdoings at ZCCM-IH because this matter is too political and sensitive...

    1. Such journalists need to be exposed - so that it becomes clear who these biased individuals are.

  2. Evil forces are too strong... Not everyone has your courage, independence and impartiality, Chola. I remember you received death threats in 2011 for having revealed the scandalous Mopani report but you maintained it on your website.
    Change should have taken place in september 2011 but mining looters are always here, the amounts are always considerable and huge bribes probably always so appetizing...


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