….. An opinion based on experience
By Bennie Mundando
ON July 29, 2009, two of my seniors at the New Vision and I were earmarked for a resounding beating by Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) thugs at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA). This is because to them, we were the hoodlums who were writing fake stories against Government, together with some “honchos” at the now defunct Post Newspaper.
On this day, clear instructions were passed from the top leadership of the MMD party hierarchy to the cadres that any reporter from the New Vision or The Post must be taught a lesson. From the New Vision, our names were, without mistake, jotted down in this order:
✅ Paul Shalala
✅ Mabvuto Chipeta
✅ Bennie Mundando
By then, I was less than six months on my first job and had no intelligence information in political circles. Those were days when I would walk into Michael Sata’s office any time, have an interview, and then he would tease me about how poverty-stricken my company was that it could not even afford transport for assignments.
He would then give me transport money to go back to the office. On the material day, we were supposed to be at the airport by utmost 12:30 hours to cover the arrival of then Republican President Rupiah Banda from Uganda where he had gone for a state visit.
It was Chipeta and I who were supposed to go because Shalala had to remain in the office coordinating the newsroom as he was our news editor.
Our driver delayed a bit because we were using the same vehicle with colleagues from the marketing department such that the moment he came in, we did not even allow him to get into the office but we jumped into the car and told him to rush us to the airport.
Our office was near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and so, we came through Addis Ababa roundabout and entered into the Great East Road.
We had hardly left Manda Hill when our boss, Harry Kalaba, now Democratic Party (DP) president, called Chipeta and asked him where we were before ordering us back to the office. Once in the office, he told us he had intelligence information that MMD cadres had been instructed to attack reporters from The Post and New Vision.
To cut the long story short, Chibaula Silwmaba was beaten right at the airport and in full view of the police and they did nothing to save him from the MMD thugs until he was forced out of the premises.
But before that, three reporters from The Post had earlier been beaten by the same group of thugs reportedly commandeered by one William Tekere Banda as the trio had gone to the airport to cover the departure of Zesco United for Sudan.
The three– news reporter Maluba Jere, photographer Collins Phiri and sports reporter Prudence Phiri, where manhandled and bundled out of the airport.
But the MMD onslaught on reporters that day did not end there. Times of Zambia reporter Anthony Mulowa and photographer Richard Mulonga were also clobbered for refusing to show them their IDs.
So, when we heard that Mr. Silwamba had beaten that day, we were not surprised because we knew there was going to be kerfuffle at the airport. We only survived because our boss had information from the MMD inner-circle.
At least President Banda had the decency to apologize for the behaviour of his thugs who had, on that day, gone on rampage attacking reporters with impunity while the police watched. Whether that was genuine or not, the bottom line is, he apologized.
As a reporter and in my individual capacity as a media practitioner, I am increasingly becoming worried with the way media houses are treated by politicians in this country.
Right now, there are opposition political party events which I can never cover even if their president himself or herself called me to guarantee my safety because our safety as reporters is at the mercy of political party cadres.
Before the 2016 elections, I went to cover the UPND rally. I was the first reporter to arrive at the venue and that is what saved me.
I heard some cadres telling some party members to show them any reporter from the Daily Nation who would cover the assignment because they wanted to teach him or her a lesson he or she would live to regret that writing lies is not condoned.
I thanked the heavens that no one among the people who had already come knew me in person and so, I folded my notebook, slotted it into my pocket, and sneaked out. I quickly jumped on a bus and left. Months later, my colleague from Millennium Radio, Priscah Lumingu, was attacked right at the UPND secretariat.
The Post newspaper was closed just as we drew closer to the 2016 elections by Government for none payment of taxes. Hundreds of employees became jobless. Some have died out of depression and others are still on the street.
More questions were asked but answers were in short supply. Within a short time, Zambians forgot about it. It was business as usual. Some employees were incited to fight their own bosses by dragging them to court. They did so with the hope that they will get jobs from Government but where are they today?
Now, we have Prime TV. Closed without any specific abrogation of the law by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), an entity which has proved to be a monster in the media industry which can mull on any electronic media without warning, while abrogating the very law which supports its very existence.
Prime TV reporters and other employees who had jobs just yesterday, today are jobless. The advertisers who had space just yesterday, their space has today shut right on their faces. The masses who had an alternative news channel are today licking their wounds because this channel is not showing.
What baffles me is how the same IBA which is so tough on certain media houses doesn’t seem to be bothered when other media houses make blunders. Example, not long ago, a presenter from a named radio station went ballistic while live on air talking about her private parts. Did the IBA act, no. Why?
I know this piece of writing can today put me in serious trouble from either the ruling PF or the UPND whom I have mentioned but this is not a political statement but my expression of fear for the future of the media industry. My industry.
Of course I have been branded a political animal by many. The UPND calls me a PF cadre, the PF call me a UPND cadre, but I have not been bothered because there are people out there who truly know what I stand for.
What is being done to the media industry today is likely to set a very bad precedence. Today, it may be the PF closing media houses tomorrow, it may be another party which will be in the office but the ultimate losers will be us in the media industry.
Our media houses may be safe from these political fights today but there is no guarantee that the status quo will remain the same till kingdom comes because this life is dynamic.
Today, we may be clapping for the monster that is devouring another media house, but just like they say, when fate yawns on your face, even a rotten banana can break your teeth. The same monster may show its ugly face on us tomorrow.
Journalism is not a crime. A reporter in the field is not a criminal who should be hunted with guns. Politicians must realise that nothing lasts forever. One day, they will be out of office and they will need the coverage of the same private media houses they are closing today when ZNBC will no longer have the luxury to cover them.
The only problem with politicians is that they don’t learn because if they did, they would have learnt lessons from their predecessors. National Democratic Congress (NDC) president Chishimba Kambwili was one of the people who fervently prayed for the demise of The Post when he was in office.
Mr. Kambwili was happy that The Post was closed, why? Because he had the public media. The public media was just a phone call away. What happened after he was booted out of office and out of the PF? The public media deserted him like a leper.
Who is covering Mr. Kambwili today? It is the offshoots from the defunct Post Newspaper-the News Diggers and the Mast. After the MMD lost the 2011 elections to the PF, how often did the public media cover Dora Siliya? Only when she appeared in court!
Who was covering her? Was it not the same private media she relentlessly attacked? Why then should she today be breathing fire with brimstone on the media houses which never discarded her when she was out of favour? It is simple. Complete power.
To the ruling party, please, give us space to work. We are your partners in development and not enemies. Stop closing our media houses because we cannot all be employed by ZANIS, ZNBC, Times of Zambia, and the Zambia Daily Mail.
To the opposition, please, allow our colleagues in the public media to work. They are just employees. They are not your political enemies. When and if you win elections, these are the same people who will cover you. Hands off the media!
SINCERELY MY OPINION..