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Politician threatens state-owned newspaper's journalists with firing

(MISA/IFEX) - On 29 August 2008, Zambia's former ambassador to Libya, Mbita Chitala, threatened journalists working for the state-owned "Zambia Daily Mail" newspaper with being fired if they did not publish his articles.

"Zambia Daily Mail" acting deputy editor Nigel Mulenga told MISA-Zambia in an interview that Chitala approached him and four of his colleagues outside the "Zambia Daily Mail" office premises demanding an explanation for the fact that his articles were not being published in the newspaper.

Mulenga, who is also the Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary general, said he had been in the process of explaining to Chitala that sometimes stories are not published because there is limited editorial and advertising space, when Chitala started issuing the threats.

"I have been following what the 'Daily Mail' is doing. You don't know that 'inchito kuti shapwa' (you can be fired)," Chitala said.

Mulenga said that Chitala, who claimed he was on Vice President Rupiah Banda's campaign team for the presidency as the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) candidate, warned them that the issue of President Mwanawasa's succession was a matter of life and death. Chitala then left a copy of his press statement in the newsroom. Chitala's statement made front-page headlines the next day.

The "Zambia Daily Mail" has demanded an apology from Chitala, who has since denied issuing the threats, saying that the allegation about the threats was a falsehood that did not deserve any apology.

Mulenga also stated that as journalists, the staff of his newspaper endeavoured to cover everyone equally, irrespective of their political inclination, adding that it was not for Chitala to tell them whom to cover, as it was not their responsibility to please everyone.
The late President Mwanawasa recalled Chitala from a foreign mission after he had published an article in the "Tripoli Post" supporting the formation of the African Union, which was contrary to the position of the Zambian government.

Since President Mwanawasa's death on 19 August 2008, there has been a protracted debate in the MMD on who should succeed the late president, who will be buried on 3 September.

Chitala has come out in full support of Vice-President Rupiah Banda's bid to run as the MMD's candidate in the forthcoming presidential by-election, slated for November this year.

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