By George Lubasi
When people from other walks of life join government, we normally have hope that they will continue carrying the interests of the constituency they have belonged to for many years. We normally think lawyers that join government will stand up for the rule of law; that journalists will influence the government to uphold press freedom; and women right activists will speak for their fellow women. Throughout, such faith has proved to be misplaced.
Those that go in with some zeal soon discover that the modus operandi is different. They have to ‘ship in or ship out’. That is where Information Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga finds himself today. He cannot preach to government the values of press freedom that he supposedly upheld when he was in the media industry. Malupenga is on a mission to stifle press freedom in Zambia. He has of late said everything that is inimical to the freedom of expression.
A few weeks ago, Malupenga said the media should not give space to politicians propagating hate speech. Never mind if Malupenga is the right person to say that. When he was at The Post, he, as managing editor, presided over coverage that was not only laughable but shameful. Malupenga gave acres of space to people who insulted the government every day. Today, he wants to lecture us on responsible journalism.
In Malupenga’s world, it seems hate speech is only an issue when it comes from the opposition. In fact, when he said “people who promote hate speech” he only meant the opposition; he did not mean any of those foul-mouthed PF ministers who are using their positions to incite hatred against the opposition. Interestingly, the government newspapers Malupenga presides over were the first ones to defy his order. They have been giving space to PF ministers who are inciting hate against opposition leaders.
The PF have been using the latitude of power (and, by extension, their control of the media) to propagate falsehoods against the opposition. A lie was cooked that there was seditious material at UPND offices; police searched and came out with nothing. If that accusation is not hate speech, what is it? Hakainde’s personal bank details where published in the media purely to incite anger that he is either corrupt or is too greedy to have acquired so much wealth. Hakainde is not under any investigation for theft or corruption. What did his bank and asset details have to do with the so called ‘sedition’? If that is not hate speech what is it? Why has Malupenga not summoned government media heads for giving space to “people who promote hate speech”?
PF leaders while in opposition appeared on UNZA Radio –‘a laboratory station’. Is the PF assuming the MMD didn’t know that UNZA Radio was a training facility? It was on that same station that the PF criticized the MMD. They used UNZA Radio as a campaign medium. If the MMD had attempted to bar PF or other opposition from appearing on UNZA Radio, they would have complained to the skies. The Press Freedom Committee to which Malupenga belonged would have issued statements saying nice things about press freedom. Now that PF are in power, and their opponents are using the station for the same purpose they used it, the radius has become an issue; the same radius that helped carry their message in opposition. This is a typical case of burning the bridge after using it.