PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu says the violence that ensued at the PF secretariat on Saturday will be treated as the final test for competency against Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja and his ‘men’ as elections approach.

And President Lungu says it would be unlawful for him to give orders for the re-opening of Prime Television which has been closed for more than a year now.

Meanwhile, President Lungu says the culture of ‘blalizo’ has scarred journalism in Zambia.

Speaking when he officiated at the World Press Freedom Day in Lusaka, Monday, the President said he was honoured to celebrate this year’s World Press Freedom Day with journalists.

“I’m greatly honoured to be with you in celebrating this year’s World Press Freedom Day. Speakers have articulated what this day is all about and have aptly raised very pertinent issues which I feel duty to respond to. Issues of journalists suffering intimidation and violence cannot continue anymore. Times have changed, People have moved on from journalists being enemies of the State, to journalists being entities of the State. From journalists spying on the State to journalists collaborating with the State, from journalists destroying the State, to journalists building the State. From journalists not being part of the State to journalists being a key component of the State. Yes, times have changed. We also aspire for the same thing: the success of our beloved nation,” President Lungu said.

He condemned the violence incident which occurred at the PF party secretariat on Saturday.

He directed the police command to act decisively against violent elements prior and after elections.

“I, therefore, am not one to support or frustrate national building. I am a friend of the media. Harassment of journalists is totally unacceptable. Intimidation, harassment and violence is not politics. Immediately a person engages in such conduct, he or she has shifted from politics into criminality. Such a person must be arrested and prosecuted. This matter is not negotiable. The law must protect all citizens without protection. I have made this very clear in the past and I want to say it again. So, alluding to the incident which occurred at the Patriotic Front headquarters, where there was violence, I am sure the police are following that matter and we are all watching closely to see what they will do,” President Lungu said.

“Someone was saying, ‘President Lungu is not condemning violence’. I have condemned violence several times. We have invited the police to act in accordance with the law. And I hope that what happened at the PF party secretariat on Saturday is the last test for the Inspector General of Police and his ‘men’ as we head towards the election. As we head towards the election, I wish to urge the police command to actively protect all law abiding citizens of Zambia from harassment and violence regardless of who they are, especially members of the press.”

The Head of State further urged journalists to disseminate news in a way that was comprehensive and proportional.

“One critical role that journalists play is providing people with information. They need to be free and self-governing. Peace is why the practitioners must disseminate news in a way that is comprehensive and proportional. And I am saying this because we have seen in our country journalists dictating what people should know. Journalism’s first obligation is truth. But, Journalists can only talk truthfully if they do thorough investigations and talk to all sides of the story. There must be no liturgy when it comes to reporting what people want to hear. This is why it is misconception that some people who have owned newspapers in this country can suddenly become politicians. And they are using their publication to spill out their manifestos and attack the voice of their rivals. This arrangement obviously gives undue advantage to those politicians in an election year like this one. That creates a very slanted playing field,” he said.

“Already we have seen some very strange way of practicing journalism all because of some issue of some ownership. We have seen in our country the media interviewing the same people whose only purpose is to slander their perceived enemies. Once the story is out, then the same journalists want to interview people who have been slandered for a reaction. It has been know that journalists are not match makers in a boxing match. You get a story which is fake and you go and ask x, ‘y said this about you… what is your comment?’ And the story gains traction and begins running, and you run with it as if it’s the truth. Instead you should have gotten the other side of the story and established the truth before you publish. The culture of ‘blalizo’, this culture is another scar on Zambian journalism. Yes, times are hard, but it is very disheartening to see or hear of journalists being paid by sources to do their work. In other cases we hear of owners of media underpaying journalists and expecting them to be paid by sources. What do you expect of such journalists? It even sends a chill to the spine to imagine this going on as we approach the elections.”

And President Lungu said it would be unlawful for him to give orders for the re-opening of Prime Television as the TV station did not re-new its licence.

“I did not come to speak too long but allow me to refer to what I have heard about the closure of Prime Television. The whole hullabaloo of this particular television station, I made an inquiry into the matter and I was told Prime TV actually did not re-new their licence. Simple, straight. A licence has elapsed due to time. What happens? The rule of law demands that you close it. And now you want me, outside the law, to issue a licence to Prime News? How do I do it? The law is there, the IBA act is there. There is no law for the President to issue licences there. Now you come to me, the friends from the international community, diplomatic circles come to me, ‘can you give them their licence’. If I do that, that will be outside the law. And we say we want rule of law. Rule of law means doing things according to the law and applying the law as it is. So, I don’t know why you journalists want me to do things outside the law and then you will say, ‘in fact it’s outside the law’.” he said.

“Who gave him his power? So, as you may be aware, prior to 2013, the issuing of licences was under the Ministry of Broadcasting and Information but it was moved to the IBA. And this is public knowledge and you still want the President to act outside the law? Isn’t that paradoxical? While I have power to order the minister to act in a certain manner, unfortunately or fortunately I don’t have power to direct the IBA because the act establishing the IBA provides that they shall not be subject to the direction of any person or authority.”

He assured journalists of government’s support towards achieving ultimate press freedom.

“I therefore want to believe that the IBA will act in accordance with the law and continue acting within the law. If there is a new licence application by Prime TV, they will consider it according to the law. Not Dora Siliya. Read the law, you are journalists. I want to assure you of my government’s support for press freedom. My government’s guarantee of press freedom is there for all to see. When we took over government, we had media outlets that we could count with fingers, but today, media outlets are in the hundreds.”

Meanwhile, Media Liaison Committee Chairperson Enerst Chanda called for the re-opening of Prime Television which was shut down a year ago.

“It is no secret that journalists have suffered intimidation, harassment from overzealous thugs all in the name of being political party cadres. These cadres in most cases are from the ruling party. We have also incidences where cadres from opposition political parties have also been violent. In just a couple of months, Zambia will be going for a General Election. It is unfortunate that in most instances, journalists are attacked in full view of police officers. And whilst being attacked, these police officers look elsewhere and pretend that there is no scene. It is very sad that our police cannot protect us even when the law requires them to do so. It is under the Patriotic Front regime that media institutions have been closed for political reasons and this fact cannot be disputed. Therefore, your Excellency, we plead that as a parent, you cannot punish a child to the point of death. You can only discipline a child to a point of reform, and we believe that our colleagues at Prime Television have reformed,” said Chanda.

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