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Harassment by US embassy security prompts boycott threat by local journalists

(MISA/IFEX) - On Thursday, 8th December, 2011, Agness Changala of "The Post" reported that Zambian journalists had threatened to stop covering US government assignments and its dignitaries if their harassment by US security personnel was not stopped. This is according to a petition signed by journalists and addressed to US Ambassador to Zambia Mark Storella complaining about the physical and verbal harassment they suffered at the hands of security personnel every time there was an assignment involving US dignitaries.

The petition dated 3rd December, 2011, was delivered to Ambassador Storella on Wednesday, 7th December, 2011. "We feel we are not accorded due respect and we demand that these issues be addressed immediately in the interest of both parties," the petition stated. "If our concerns are not addressed, we will stop covering the American Embassy and its dignitaries."

The signatories cited the recent case at George Clinic where journalists representing Western media were the only ones allowed to take pictures of former US President George Bush while the local journalists were barred.

The petition was also copied to the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and Tourism's permanent secretary, Zambia Union of Journalists, the Press Association of Zambia, the Press Freedom Committee of "The Post", the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zambia Union of Broadcasters and other information disseminators.

MISA Zambia holds a copy of this petition, signed by various journalists from different media houses.

MISA Zambia's Vice Chairperson, Nalumino Nalumino, lamented that, "The American Embassy should have had the courtesy to inform the Zambian journalists well in advance of any procedures, such as the parameters they were expected to observe around the visiting dignitaries. It was wrong to embarrass the local journalists in such a harsh manner. Had these journalists been notified from the very beginning of any special procedures, the situation wouldn't have reached this point where they've even written a petition.

"The blame for this should fall directly on the department at the American Embassy that's in charge of media relations. It wasn't right for journalists to be segregated according to whether they were local or American/international. Journalists must always be treated equally and should work together regardless of whether they are from Zambia, America or Mars."

Nalumino noted that the treatment Zambian journalists received was humiliating and shameful and something that must not happen again. "We are equal. We may not have the best technology, but under the harsh conditions we work in, we are still able to produce quality work as journalists."

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