Lusaka, 30 March 2017:
Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) is saddened by media reports that journalists from both public and private media were harassed by political party cadres during the recently organised press conference by the United Party of National Development (UPND).
PSAf also notes the growing tendency by political party cadres to harass journalists, especially those from media houses they deem to disagree with them. We also note the growing tendency by press conference organisers to invite non-media persons to attend an event meant for them to interact with the media and its journalists.
A press conference as the name implies is a meeting organised for the purposes of distributing information to the public, through the media; and answering questions from media practitioners representing and acting in the public interest. A press conference is meant for the media only and should therefore be held in a media friendly environment that allow journalists to freely interact with the organisers and freely ask questions and seek information on the topic at hand.
Journalists attend press conferences not to fix or explain their views on the subject but to collect information and news for the many readers and listeners that depend on them for news. Journalists therefore are simply the conduit of information and news between the news makers and the public.
It is for this reason that PSAf finds it hard to understand why political parties and other organisations that invite the media to their planned conferences would turn around and harass the same media they have invited.
Hindering journalists from covering a press conference or any event they deem newsworthy is an infringement on press freedom. It is also an infringement on the right to access to information for the ordinary person who depend on those journalists’ media outlets for information.
The independence of the media should not only be promoted when the media writes favourable news about an idea, organisation or indeed, individual, but even when they report negatively on an issue or interest.
The independence of the media entails allowing the media to choose any viewpoint of the story they will report on, and the way they report it.
Expecting the media to only cover what is favourable to any entity goes against the principles of the media being the fourth estate, a watchdog in a democracy.
PSAf calls on media owners to ensure their journalists’ security is guaranteed before sending them to cover press conferences and other events.
PSAf urges political parties to respect the media and press freedom – regardless of whether they agree with the way they are covered by certain media houses. We call on political parties to put in place measures to protect journalists during their public events such as press conferences.
Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa
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