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It’s time police restored relations with the media

Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja says the service’s relationship with the media has historically been delicate.

Addressing a breakfast meeting between the Zambia Police Service and media bodies at Protea Hotel Tower in Lusaka, Kanganja said the two sides have viewed each other with suspicion.

“…History has it that for decades now the relationship between the police and the media has always been a delicate one as each side has viewed the other with suspicion and often times as enemies, arising from the failure by either side to fully appreciate the role of the other in society, particularly in democratic governance,” said Kanganja. “But ultimately the roles and responsibilities of the media and the police is one; that is to serve members of the public. This entails that we need to respect and appreciate each other’s roles. How can this be achieved? This can be achieved by collaborating and working together when we the police play our role of providing a safe and secure environment for people to carry out their daily activities freely in a safe environment; and you the media disseminate well researched information to members of the society which can help them know the happenings in society and help them improve their lives. Therefore, our relationship is inseparable, and none of us should work and exist in isolation, unless they have a hidden agenda. I’m sure this is the more reason why we have gathered in this manner so that we get to know each other better, not only from the work life perspective but also from the social life perspective.”

It is a good thing that Kanganja and his team have realised that indeed the relationship between police and the media has not been trustworthy. In short, there has never been trust between the two parties.

While media practitioners truly believe that the work they do is in honesty, police seem to treat this work with a pinch of salt. In most instances, police have accused the media of writing untruths, especially if such stories rattle their appointing authorities.

Speaking of real journalism, British author and journalist Eric Blair, aka, George Orwell had this affirmation: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want published; everything else is public relations.”

In our view, this is where the mistrust between police and journalists emanates from. In the eyes of the police, journalists should literally parrot for ‘the most powerful’ in society, and it ends there. For journalists on the other hand, they are aware of their obligation to give the correct picture to the public. Kanganja correctly puts it that in fact, both groups have the same role of serving the public, so why the mistrust?

Kanganja, being the top cop, should use his realisation to mend relations between the two camps. His leadership at the top of the Zambia Police Service has not been inspiring. It is under Kanganja’s reign that our Police Service has recorded the worst human rights abuses in the history of our country. A lot of peaceful citizens have been maimed, assaulted and sometimes killed by police. Kanganja has literally carried out instructions from the Patriotic Front leadership without any regard for the law. It is under Kanganja’s leadership that PF cadres have taken it as a norm to storm private radio stations and disrupt programmes. And this is done in full view of his police officers. At the receiving end of this brutality have been the journalists, opposition politicians, critical civil society organisations and other independent voices. Kanganja’s police officers have never bothered to protect these victims who deserve police protection under our Constitution. Police under Kanganja have allowed themselves to be abused by PF leaders and aligned organisations.

And speaking of Kanganja’s realisation, American telephone pioneer and shipbuilder Thomas Augustus Watson said: ‘’You look at the pillars of the state: politics, the media, police, lawyers – they’ve all got their formal role, and then nestling above that is that power elite who are networked in through soft, social links, that are actually running the show. Why didn’t I know that 10 years ago, and why didn’t I rail against it? Why did I become part of it?’’

Kanganja should also ask himself why he became part of this brutality against innocent citizens who want to mobilise for a cause and express their views. He has worked very well for his appointing authority to shrink our civic space. And this is a man who in December last year was given a six-month ultimatum by his boss Edgar Lungu to redeem the police image – the image that Edgar and surrogates have destroyed over the years. And now that water has reached their necks, they throw it to the police. Kanganja’s ultimatum is due to expire in June, about two months before elections. He allowed himself to be used by Edgar and his minions who later blamed him for all the human rights abuses, including police killing of State prosecutor Nsama Nsama and UPND member Joseph Kaunda on December 23, 2020.

It is never too late, though, and we hope that Kanganja’s realisation will yield fruits. It is one thing to make public proclamations and another to act. The question is, will Kanganja’s political masters allow him to treat the media fairly and with respect? Further, should the media expect full police protection as they cover this year’s elections? Kanganja has these and many other questions to answer!

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