Zambia’s government has ordered police to arrest individuals or groups of people who intimidate or harass journalists or prevent them from doing their job.
Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Kennedy Sakeni said President Michael Sata’s government wants to make sure journalists are protected following reports that some supporters of political parties have been beating journalists they believe are critical of their party’s leaders.
Sakeni says the new directive to police is aimed at ensuring that journalists can practice their profession without fear of intimidation or harassment as enshrined in the constitution.
“We don’t want journalists to be harassed by anybody from any political party [because] information to us is very critical to our development,” said Sakeni.
“There are some documented cases where some opposition parties, their cadres and officials have been harassing both public and private media journalists whenever they come across them. As a government, we don’t want any violence against journalists,” he added.
Sakeni said the government issued the directive after journalists petitioned the administration to protect them following reported harassment.
But some opposition parties say the government’s new directive to police is a publicity stunt to gain favorable press coverage and stifle opponents of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. The government denies the accusation.
Sakeni underscored the importance of the role journalists play in Zambia.
“We should actually make sure that we respect the role of journalists,” he said.
“We must realize that as a developing country, we need information, and without information how do we inform the public about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, the various development programs government is involved in and how do we teach our people new farming methods?”
In April, the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) said it was disappointed with the government’s decision to “prematurely” retire six prominent journalists at the state-run newspaper, the Times. The government gave no reason for its decision.
Andrew Sakala, chairman of the press association, said it appears the journalists were retired for allegedly sympathizing with the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). The MMD is now the main opposition party.
But, Sakeni denied the government was behind the retirement of the journalists.
“The media, whether public or private, have their own board and they make decisions on their own. As government, we don’t go into what the various media boards decide on their employees,” said Sakeni.