Making a scene?

A free and unfettered press is something new I have to add to my list of “things I going to appreciate a little bit more after my time in Zambia.” To be honest, the choice of media in Lusaka is pretty dire with just three newspapers serving the capital. Two of them – Times of Zambia and Daily Mail are state owned and show a predictable degree of reverence for everything the government says and does. It’s a pretty bad state of affairs when the most interesting (and well written) article is a Reuters syndicated review of a new model of car which you can’t even buy in the country.

The glaringly odd one out in this trio of mediocrity is The Post, an independently owned and run paper which never fails to highlight the governments latest failings or pass harsh judgement on the leadership of President Banda in particular. Although not always particularly balanced or indeed well written, it is an important source of independent information in a country dominated by government owned TV and Radio. The Post burnished its credentials for uncovering corruption at the start of the century by leading the charge against another president – Fred Chiluba.

Chiluba was the first president in the multi-party era that began in 1991, holding the post for over ten years. He has since been found guilty of defrauding the country of millions of dollars and faces further charges to this day. Once a darling of the donor community for his radical (if ill-conceived) market reforms, he will probably now be best remembered for his collection of over 100 shoes made from every variety of leather and in every conceivable colour known to man – each finished off with a 2″ heel! Thus making him something of the Imelda Marcos of African big men.

Chiluba's Shoes

Chiluba's Shoes

Of late, relations between The Post and President Banda’s government have taken a decidedly darker turn. During the recent health worker strike, an expectant mother was forced to give birth to her child in the car park of the hospital. The mother experienced complications and with no staff to assist her the baby was still born. Out of desperation, the father of the child took pictures of the event and sent them to The Post.

To their credit, The Post elected not to publish the disturbing pictures but instead forwarded them to members of the government, women’s groups, and the Church stressing the seriousness of the strike and requesting that all efforts be made to bring it to an quick end. The first the country heard of all of this was during a press conference when the President started to make oblique references to forces in Zambia that were intent on distributing ‘sick pornography’ before visibly loosing his temper and expressing a wish that the police would act quickly.

Now a couple of weeks later, it seems like that command has been heeded and the editor of The Post (a 29 year old woman) has been arrested and charged with ‘distributing obscene materials in order to corrupt society’. Her trial is scheduled for August and she faces the possibility of up to five years in prison.

A US Supreme Court justice once famously remarked that obscenity was hard to define but that “he knew it when he saw it”. Well I haven’t made a point of seeking out the images (though they now appear to be on the internet) but I think I can speak for all when I say there can be nothing remotely pornographic about an image of a mother giving birth to a still born child.

That the entire debate is now centred around this ridiculous charge of obscenity rather than outrage at the fact that children’s lives were lost while the strike was not resolved is intensely depressing. The shameful fact that some women’s groups have come out in support of the prosecution further deepens my gloom.

And as for the President’s role in all of this, I shall not pass any judgement. Save to say that a small monkey happened to be watching the now infamous press conference from the trees high above. Unfortunately for the President as he made his remarks the monkey proceeded to relieve himself onto the President’s jacket.

One Response to “Making a scene?”
  1. John Vincent says:

    Well done! As always an interesting article! We could do with some of those small monkeys here in Ireland to deal with the Bord Snip’s recommendations!

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