Information and Broadcasting Minister Joseph Katema, PS Anthony Kasolo and Edgar Lungu’s Press Aid Emmanuel Mwamba yesterday threatened to dissolve the ZNBC board and dismiss Director General Edward Mwanza if the public broadcaster went ahead to record the presidential debate last evening.
Economic Association of Zambia (EAZ) had invited party presidents for all political parties with representation in parliament namely FDD, MMD, PF and UPND for a debate and all the political parties had confirmed through their Secretary General Generals and Campaign Managers.
EAZ had entered into a contract and paid ZNBC for the debate and by 13:00 hours, the Outside Broadcasting vans had already mounted at Pamodzi Hotel in readiness for the highly publicized event that attracted several diplomats and Civil Society Organisations who all came and were told it had been cancelled.
By 17:00 hours, ZNBC outside broadcasting unit was seen driving out after pressure from government authorities that ordered the debate be cancelled because Edgar Lungu was not available, despite other party president having confirmed participation with or without him.
Debate moderator Kunda Mando was heard complaining that the PF were also not happy that she had even put provision and a tag for Lungu who was not going to be present.
UPND campaign manager Dipak Patel in a statement said it was yet another missed opportunity for Zambians to hear what the political parties had to offer.
He complained that his candidate, Hakainde Hichilema had to be withdrawn from his busy campaign schedule from Eastern Province just to attend the debate, but only to be told it had been cancelled.
Below is the full statement
We wish to make clear the events that transpired yesterday evening at the scheduled presidential debate organised by the Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ).
Along with MMD candidate Nevers Mumba, FDD candidate Edith Nawakwi and PF candidate Edgar Lungu, our candidate Hakainde Hichilema had agreed to participate in the debate, recognising that it would be a valuable opportunity for the Zambian public to evaluate the major contenders side by side in a transparent arena with no where to hide.
The PF Secretary General Davies Chama signed an agreement committing Edgar Lungu to the debate. Edgar Lungu dishonourably violated this agreement by not showing up. This in itself is disrespectful to the EAZ, the participants and the people of Zambia.
Having changed our schedule and flown our candidate back mid-campaign from Eastern Province we were ready to go ahead with the debate with or without Edgar Lungu.
The EAZ had agreed with ZNBC to record the debate and then broadcast it at a later date. Unfortunately once it became clear that Mr Lungu was not attending the ZNBC crew packed up and left. Attempts to find an alternative at last minute were explored but nothing viable was established.
This is not only a missed opportunity but it appears to be a blatant violation of media freedom. Despite the concerns we have raised time and time again, yesterday evening’s events show that the PF is still interfering with ZNBC and seeking to control their campaign coverage.
Acting President Guy Scott has repeatedly stated his commitment to overseeing free and fair elections. We call for him to immediately take action to end this interference with the affairs of the public broadcaster. We further call on all parties and civil society to speak out and condemn this abuse.
UPND Campaign Manager