The concerns that emerged immediately after Levy Mwanawasa’s election as president have not gone away. Almost all the measures taken against journalists in 2003 were prompted by articles criticising the president.
Several journalists were arrested in 2003 because of articles about President Levy Mwanawasa or his associates. The president does not like an independent press. Just a few days after taking office in January 2002, he had warned the news media not to publish inaccurate reports or reports likely to disturb the peace.
The Zambian press has become more conscious of its responsibilities and has given thought to the quality of its work. The Independent Media Council, a self-regulatory body, issued a report at the start of February supporting several news media that had been accused by the authorities of publishing false reports. The council said the press had the right to raise questions about the practices of politicians and had the right to protect its sources. In just one case, the council accused a newspaper of committing a professional breach by publishing an erroneous report. The staff of the state media had other concerns. In January, 400 of them went on strike for a salary increase.
A journalist imprisoned
Chali Nondo, the chief reporter of the biweekly The Monitor, was arrested on 5 February 2003 on a charge of "publishing false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public" for reporting that President Mwanawasa let the police use witchcraft to help capture a fugitive former foreign minister accused of corruption. Nondo was freed on bail on 10 February.
Three journalists detained
Three journalists with The Monitor - editor Arthur Simuchoba, his assistant, Calvin Kaleyi, and reporter Chali Nondo - were detained by armed police in Lusaka on 21 January 2003. They were freed a few hours later after being interrogated about an article a few months earlier that implicated Harry Mwanawasa, the president’s brother, in a corruption case. A fourth journalist with The Monitor, Douglas Hampande, went voluntarily to the police the next day and was interrogated for two hours. The newspaper’s news editor, Mervin Syafunko, went into hiding to avoid arrest. He told a local radio station he was concerned for his safety.
Harassment and obstruction
Reuters correspondent Shapi Shacinda, Agence France-Presse correspondent Dickson Jere (who also heads the Zambia Independent Media Association - ZIMA), BBC reporter Penny Dale, The Post deputy editor Amos Malupenga and Radio Phoenix reporter Wendy Mpolokoso were prevented from covering the trial of former President Frederick Chiluba on 24 February 2003. Other journalists with the Zambian media were allowed to attend.
The same day, deputy information minister Webster Chipili threatened to close down Catholic Church-run radio Ichengelo. The station was accused of being financed by the Patriotic Front (PF), an opposition party that is very critical of the government.
Masautso Phiri, the editor of the privately-owned weekly Today, was summoned for questioning by police on 24 June but refused to go as he suspected the summons was linked to the publication of two articles about President Mwanawasa. The first was about a sex scandal in which the president was allegedly implicated. The second said the president’s health was declining. Phiri finally went on 2 July to the police, who questioned him about several of his articles and took a statement. Today no longer appeared after the end of June. The state-owned Zambia Printing Company (ZPC) gave various explanations as to why it stopped printing it.
Freelance reporter Alfarson Sinalungu was stopped by four prison guards on 17 September at Kabwe hospital, where Jack Chiti, the alleged author of an abortive coup attempt against former President Frederick Chiluba in 1997, was receiving treatment. They questioned him for 30 minutes, accused him or writing an article about Chiti that had appeared in the Sunday Post, and said he had broken the law by interviewing a hospitalised detainee. He was taken to the police station and was released in the evening without being charged.
Journalists with both independent and state-run news media were barred on 18 October from a national convention or "indaba" organised by the government to discuss Zambia’s development policies. Despite having official accreditation, the reporters were excluded so that debates would not be disturbed by the "intimidating presence" of the press, the convention’s chairman, Siteke Mwale, said.
Police closed Omega TV, a Lusaka-based commercial TV station, on 1 November for allegedly broadcasting material not covered by its licence. The station had obtained a temporary permit in early 2002 to broadcast programmes on a test basis. Then, in September 2003, the information ministry called for its closure on the grounds that it was broadcasting news bulletins, which had not been envisaged in the test programming. The station obtained authorisation from the high court on 3 November to continue broadcasting until July 2004. But the attorney general managed to get this ruling overturned a few days later and ordered the station closed again.