The summoning by police of Diamond TV chief executive officer Costa Mwansa and head of news and current affairs George Chomba to appear before them at force headquarters is unacceptable harassment of journalists and news media outlets.
We are informed that this is in connection with investigations police are conducting in relation to what is alleged to be a leaked speech of the 2021 budget. But when did a budget speech become a sensitive state security document? Traditionally, the budget speech is quietly made available to reliable and influential media in advance. In the more than two and half decades we were journalists almost every year we had advance access to the budget speech and where never harassed in this way by police.
This is nothing but an attempt to intimidate and censor the country’s leading independent television station.
This type of harassment of journalists has an impact on those affected by it, but it is also a direct attack on press freedom and independence — an attempt to silence specific voices and stories.
Being a target for harassment can be exhausting, which takes an incredible psychological toll on the journalist, the newsroom and on other colleagues in that same beat.
A very tangible consequence is censorship — journalists not reporting a certain story because they’re afraid of the onslaught of harassment.
I have most definitely spoken to journalists who said they have not reported on something, or they have avoided a story, because they’re afraid of the consequences.
Journalists are watchdogs working to promote transparency and accountability. As such, they can be become victims of silencing strategies when they threaten powerful interests or expose governments or important figures in the name of public interest.
This is what is happening in Zambia today where the country’s leading broadcaster Costa Mwansa’s television station, Diamond TV, has been targeted with a string of police investigations and call outs by this authoritarian regime.
Not all silencing techniques are this overt, but even subtler attempts can impact the accountability work being done by journalists at all levels and shouldn’t be ignored – they must be denounced.
We therefore call on the police to immediately stop its harassment of Costa Mwansa and Diamond TV.
Mwika Royal Village, Chinsali