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Official warns journalists with state-owned newspapers against criticising government

(MISA/IFEX) - Zambia's Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Mike Mulongoti, warned journalists at the state-owned "Daily Mail" and "Times of Zambia" not to criticise the government.

Speaking to trainee journalists at "The Post" newspaper on 10 September 2007, Mulongoti said it would be "unacceptable" for journalists working for public media to criticise the government.

An article in "The Post" quotes Mulongoti as saying, "Journalists at the 'Times' and the 'Daily' also have wives and children; they have jobs to protect, don't forget that. Before they write anything against me, they will ask themselves: 'What will the minister do? Will I be in the office tomorrow?'"

Despite saying he never explicitly gave direction to the managing editors of the two newspapers, Mulongoti said they were expected to show self-restraint in the stories they publish.

Fr. Frank Bwalya, chairperson of MISA Zambia, expressed his disappointment at Mulongoti's remarks, which he called "retrogressive" and belonging to the one-party state era and not Zambia's current multiparty democracy.

Fr. Bwalya said he found the statement regrettable. "In their proper context, we believe that the words were meant to threaten our hardworking colleagues in the public media, to tell them that they risk losing their jobs if they exercise editorial independence and professionalism in their work," he said.

Fr. Bwalya said state-owned media should serve the interests of the public and operate free of government influence.

"Public media should not exclusively inform the public about government programmes, but also give members of the public an opportunity to criticise government and its leaders when their actions call for criticism," he said.

Zambia has taken some steps towards transforming the state-owned broadcaster into a public-service broadcaster with the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Amendment Act of 2002. The amendment, among other things, provides for the creation of an independent board to run ZNBC. However, little progress has been made towards implementing the Act.

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