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Opposition party supporters attack state media journalists

(MISA/IFEX) - On March 19 and 20, 2011, supporters from one of Zambia's main opposition political parties, the Patriotic Front (PF), on two separate occasions harassed and injured reporters working for the national television broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, (ZNBC) when they went to cover the party's provincial Conference and public rally held at Lusaka's Garden Motel and in Mandevu residential area in Lusaka, respectively.

Cuthbert Miti and Mwila Nsofu told the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia that they were physically and verbally harassed by a mob of PF cadres when they went to cover the conference. Their attackers accused them of biased coverage towards the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

Miti was accused of filming for freelance journalist Chanda Chimba III's controversial programme "Stand Up for Zambia". The cameraman was surrounded, beaten and pushed around by a mob which attempted to confiscate his camera equipment.

"The moment they saw us approaching the gate, they came and surrounded us and started calling their colleagues whilst pushing our vehicle out of the road, hitting it with their fists and sticks and further threatened to burn us inside the vehicle if we became rude. One of them hit me on my shoulder as I was trying to hide the camera," Miti narrated.

The following day, two reporters from the same national broadcaster, Effie Mphande and Abraham Banda, were also verbally harassed by the same cadres after being invited to cover the political party's public rally in Mandevu.

Mphande and Banda confirmed their harassment to MISA Zambia. They added that the seemingly angry cadres shouted for the removal of the ZNBC microphone from the podium, whilst chanting anti-ZNBC songs.

Mphande narrated that the cadres, who had sticks in their hands, monitored the microphone on the podium, a move which prompted security personnel from the party to remove the ZNBC logo from the microphone so that it could not be identified.

"We, with the help of the PF security men, had to tear out the ZNBC logo from the microphone so that the cadres couldn't identify it, otherwise, we would have not covered the event," said Mphande.

ZNBC Public Relations Officer, Masuzyo Ndlovu, described the action by the cadres as unfortunate, adding that journalists should be allowed to operate in an environment which is free from political interference. Ndlovu said the Corporation has since written to the PF management demanding a comprehensive explanation of their cadres' actions.

In addition, Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president Anthony Mulowa expressed concern about the increase in the harassment of journalists from the public media.

Mulowa urged political parties in the country to guarantee the safety of journalists as the country draws closer to the tripartite elections, adding that journalists play a critical role in the overall development of the country, and that the reported situation will deprive the public of much needed information.

Police spokesperson Ndandula Siamana said that five cadres have been arrested in connection with the violence that took place at the Garden Motel. Siamana added that the police have instituted a probe into the matter.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of MISA Zambia, Daniel Sikazwe, issued a statement condemning the harassment of journalists by party cadres.

Sikazwe said the media plays a critical role in the development process of the country through the information it provides to the public and advised the political parties not to be violent ahead of the tripartite elections to be held in 2011.

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