The Catholic Church in Zambia has called on political parties and their supporters to stop harassing and intimidating journalists as the August 11 general election approaches.
Father Winfield Kunda, executive director of Catholic Media Services, this week said in a statement that his organization "does not condone threats and intimidation directed at journalists and other media workers. Also politicians and political parties should discourage their cadres from attacking media workers," and instead should “follow the right procedure” for objecting.
He also called upon journalists to ensure fair reporting in the run-up to the southern African nation’s elections.
Kunda denied media reports that the church owned and closed Radio Mana, a community radio station that opposes the ruling Patriotic Front party. He said the Kasama-based station's management decided to shut it down "because of the threat from the supporters of the government who felt disgruntled or disappointed that that community radio station was becoming anti-government," Kunda said.
He emphasized that "we do not own that radio station."
The closing heightened Catholic Media Services' concerns about press freedom in Zambia, Kunda said. "That's why we publish the statement to indicate to all politicians, and especially political parties, to discourage their cadres from attacking media workers. Particularly during this time, it is very common that the media seems to be polarized.”
Charges of bias
Political parties and civil society organizations have often accused media organizations of bias in election coverage. They note that Zambia's constitution demands fairness in media reporting.
"It’s true that during these elections, some media houses have tended to come out against the government," Kunda said, "and what we have decided to do as a church is to do our best to appeal to them, because these are private media institutions, and they are free to support whoever they want."
But he warned that reporting should be ethical and factual, "and not to be sensational or just to accuse."
Meanwhile, Frank Bwalya, deputy spokesman for the ruling party, said he was attacked Friday at Sky FM, a radio station in the southern Zambia town of Monze. The attackers had not been identified.
Kunda condemned the attack.
"All these media houses … whether they are public or private or community, they are supposed to be protected by the police," he said.
He advised station owners and managers to notify police when they bring in speakers, especially controversial ones, "so that the guests are protected as well as the equipment, the infrastructure is protected."