Media harassment ahead of Zambia elections

Date: January 1, 1970
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Reporting on the upcoming 31 October elections in Zambia is proving to be hazardous for local media, with female journalists being particularly vulnerable. However, despite the media harassment happening ahead of the unscheduled elections, which became necessary by the sudden death in August of the late Zambian Republican President Dr. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, women journalists continue to persevere in election coverage.

Political parties eager to campaign and sell their candidates to the electorate accuse the media of biased coverage and siding with their preferred candidates. Some show their anger and displeasure by harassing and beating journalists.
On October 18, party cadres attacked a television crew, which included two women, from the privately owned Muvi TV, accusing the station of biased reporting against their candidate and acting President Rupiah Banda.
According to Delphister Lungu, who is pregnant and was one of the victims, her station received an invitation to cover the MMD cadres’ planned protest against alleged biased coverage by certain media. The crew joined the gathering protesters at the Lusaka Main Post office before following the march to the Freedom Statue.
She said that while at the statue, the MMD cadres started stoning and pouring chibuka (local beer) on passing vehicles with Patriotic Front (PF) Presidential candidate Michael Chilufya Sata’s posters.  
“When we saw what was happening we started capturing and that is when some cadres came to me and grabbed the microphone demanding to say something. I refused them the microphone and told them that I would give them an opportunity to speak after I had spoken to their senior party officials who were present at the scene,” recounted Lungu. “It is at this stage that they started stoning and beating me asking why we went to the event if we did not want them to talk on the microphone?”
Lungu said she ran to the vehicle, but the cadres followed her and continued beating her and spitting on her until all the members of the crew managed to jump on the vehicle.
“I was badly beaten by the cadres to the extent that I started bleeding afterwards. I do not even know what to say about what happened to me. In my state, anything can happen and if I die, who can look after my children? I just have to be cautious about my safety,” she said.
Narrating on MUVI TV’s Hot Seat programme, Patricia Mapiki, another female journalist beaten and assaulted by during the incident, said everything looked calm and normal on arrival at the venue. Mapiki echoed Lungu’s recollection, saying that that despite getting onto to the car, the cadres continued throwing sand and spitting at them. Mapiki added that if they delayed getting to the vehicle, one of the crew would have died from the mob beatings.
The incident was not the first on the campaign trail. On 18 October, some MMD supporters on the Copperbelt in Kitwe, chased and threatened to beat Post Newspaper reporter Mwila Chansa for attempting to cover Vice President Rupiah Banda’s wife at a function.
The female MMD supporters accused the paper of bias in their coverage of their candidate and told Mwila that MMD has already won the election. The female supporters shouted that they would beat Mwila because she was stupid and that her newspaper was reporting lies about Ruphia Banda.
Several organisations around the country have condemned the media harassment and beatins. Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zambia Chairperson Henry Kabwe said in an interview that MISA was sad that the relationship between the media and political parties has continued souring because of political parties who want to dictate what the media should report.
Kabwe said female journalists were particularly vulnerable, as they have less ability to protect themselves against such acts, compared to their male counterparts.
“This habit of beating or harassing journalists especially female journalists should be condemned with the strongest term it deserves,” he added. “If it continues, it will discourage female journalists already in the profession from continuing and even those girls who want to join the profession.”
He said this situation poses a serious challenge to media, learning and training institutions to institute strategies to encourage more women to join the profession and for those already in the media to aim higher without working under fear of any kind. He said MISA is coming up with a programmes aimed at encouraging more women to join the profession.
Zambia Women Media Association (ZAMWA) Vice Chairperson Diana Mulilo condemned the beating and harassment of journalists saying journalists have the right to getting and disseminating information in the way they want but within the journalism ethics.
Mulilo said the beating of journalists working on beats such as politics and election would discourage women in covering such beats. She added that the apology by the MMD Kabwata Constituency Chairperson Chilekwa Mukonge and later alone the MMD cadres was not enough, but what would be appropriate finding a lasting solution to the problem. She said they must engage political cadres to make them understand how the media houses and journalists operates.
And the Media Ethics Council Of Zambia (MECOZ) equally condemned the beating and harassment of journalists saying there are proper ways of channeling a problem if political parties were not happy with the manner the media was covering them.
MECOZ Executive Director Binwell Mwale said journalists had their own way of judging what news was and a political party cannot dictate on what journalists should report about.
Mwale said the acts of violence by political party cadres would have a negative effect on female journalists who may want to think twice on which beats or areas they would want to cover.
Perpetual Sichikwenkwe is a journalist in Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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