Editor's Comment

Stop harassing news messengers

PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has stated that he will not tolerate harassment of journalists in the course of their duties by police or political cadres. This is timely.
It is welcome and assuring to all journalists, some of whom have fallen victim of physical and mental harassment at the hands of cadres or men and women in uniform.
The message by the Head of State is timely given that in just three months’ time, the elections campaign will go full-throttle with dissolution of Parliament.
It is usually during this period that journalists are exposed to harassment as they endeavour to keep the nation informed.
It is deeply saddening that in the recent past, there has been an increase in the number of attacks on journalists during the course of their duties.
Some journalists have been injured, their tools taken away and company cars damaged by some political party cadres.
Some journalists have been left so traumatised that they have genuine fear of any assignment that requires them to cover political events at which the presence of political party cadres is expected.
Strangely, some political parties don’t even apologise for such harassment of journalists by their cadres. Yet it is these same parties that request for the presence of the journalists.
Full coverage of such political parties, therefore, becomes constrained and it is the same parties that at the end of the day complain about alleged biased news coverage by the media.
What is even of more concern is that in some instances, it is the police who torment the journalists.
Even when the journalists clearly identify themselves as such, they at times fall prey to blanket abrasive crowd control.
It is good, though, that the police are in constant liaison with the media to find an amicable way in which the two can work effectively in the same space without getting into each other’s way.
This has been reassured by the police, but it can only be ascertained when the elections campaigns heat up in the next few months.
It ought to be remembered or known that impeding journalists from doing their work has a huge impact not only on them and their institutions, but on society as a whole.
This is especially so now that the voters have to make informed decisions on who to vote for.
Decisions can be made from one attending political rallies but it is always faster to get this information through the media, which has a wider reach.
In any case, this time around there could be limitations of the holding of political rallies because such gatherings are considered high-risk events for the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
So political parties will have to rely significantly on the media for speedy transmission of their messages to the millions of voters within the three months of the campaign period before the polls on August 12.
As the fourth estate, the media is one of the pillars that anchor democracy and development.
Given the important role the media plays, the Zambian Constitution guarantees press freedom.
As provided for by the Constitution, the media has the freedom to perform its role without any hindrance.
It is therefore elating that the Head of State, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, has sounded a stern warning against those criminals hiding behind political parties and the police service in the habit of attacking journalists.
Certainly there’s need to ensure that culprits are brought to book to create a safe environment for journalists to operate.
It is good that the President has set the right tone for the need to guarantee freedom of the media.
We expect all other political party leaders to do the same, and to mean it.
Political parties should also take responsibility by ensuring that perpetrators of violence are reprimanded and handed over to the law enforcers.
Remember that journalists are not political players in this quest for political power. They are mere conveyer belts of the statements the politicians make. So, don’t harm the messengers.

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