In a series of exclusive interviews with Zambia Reports, a number of journalists at the publicly-owned Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail newspapers are complaining of poor salaries and intense censorship from the administration.
The journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimized by their editors-in-chief and State House, have said that the Patrotic Front (PF) government has failed to improve their conditions of service as well as freedom of speech.
Since coming into power, monthly salaries from the government have often been paid many weeks late without explanation, the journalists say, while the Times of Zambia has refused to give any of the normal salary increases due to members of staff. The Zambia Daily Mail has offered its unionised workers workers a paltry 7% salary increase, which was met with disappointment by those interviewed for this article.
Reporters say that the PF-appointed managing directors and their deputies acquired bank loans immediately after taking over the newspapers, and that rather than invest in improving production at the struggling media platforms, these funds were taken to purchase luxury vehicles for themselves.
“The PF came in promising to increase our salaries and to improve our conditions of service,” said one of the journalists. “They also promised to give us total press freedom, but what we are experiencing today is that our salaries have degenerated because inflation and the prices of goods and services keep increasing while greater press freedom has remained a major pipe dream.”
Political divisions also continue to divide the work place under an atmosphere of suspicion. The journalists we spoke to have said at Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail, some state media employees are allegedly compiling lists of reporters who they want dismissed for being perceived “to be against the PF government.”
“The Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ) has failed to represent workers, because the top leaders are PF sympathizers who have been at the forefront of working against their own members by reporting them to the government,” another reporter from the Daily Mail said. “Being critical of the government is a big offence with ZUJ even when one is talking about the realiities in the failure of the PF to address matters journalists in the public media are facing.”
“In fact, we have passed a vote of no confidence in the ZUJ president Anthony Mulowa and we want an emergency convention to elect new and credible leaders. He is the worst president ZUJ has ever had because he is always interested in his own welfare and he is always seen lobbying for a promotion at the Times of Zambia or a job in the government,” the reporter said.
On freedom of speech, the reporters said their newsrooms are facing intense censorship because they are not allowed to write anything critical or embarrassing to the government.
The journalists said the PF government promised to liberate them from the pangs of censorship under the MMD government, but matters have not improved because the managing directors and their deputies refuse to publish stories and pictures that are not supporting the government.
“No one of free to write anything that will embarrass the state. Our stories are spiked everyday and we have adopted the professional conduct of self censorship. We understand jobs are scarce and this is the reason why are still in there, but the truth is that we have no moral or motivation. People are just reporting for work, just for the sake of it,” said a reporter from the Times of Zambia.
The journalists have also said that the managing directors and their deputies increased their monthly salaries in the midst of economic challenges the newspapers are facing, while most of the workers are struggling to pay their own expenses.
“We had our own challenges during the MMD, but what we are experiencing under the PF is worse. It is like we have been sent to prison for five years. The only consolation we have is that we have served two years so far and we cannot wait for change in 2016,” a Times of Zambia reporter said.
Traditionally in Zambia, state-owned newspapers have been tasked with promoting the interests of the government at the moment, often including ad naseum attacks and criticism against the opposition. Nevertheless, despite the propaganda, reporters working for the state media continue to break stories of important public interest and occasionally are allowed to undertake serious works of journalism. However, with the victory of the PF, this self-censorship has reached new levels, the reporters say, while the integration of the privately owned Post Newspaper into many ministries of the administration has created an especially difficult environment for those reporters aiming to advance their careers as serious journalists.