Opinion

Post Newspaper Editor M’membe Comes Under Criticism for Biased Reporting

Writing on his blog, the international lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who represents the former President Rupiah Banda and his son Henry Banda, shares the full text of a letter he delivered to the editor and owner of The Post Newspaper Fred M’membe.  Amsterdam was responding to an article authored by M’membe, however the Post refused to publish his letter.  The letter alleges several instances of The Post failing to investigate or report on news stories that would cast a critical light on the government, while leading members of the opposition are disparaged from “a sniper’s nest.”

Below is an excerpt of the letter:

I am writing to you today to highlight the deepening level of distrust in The Post Newspaper among Zambian citizens and the international community following the repeated of publication false news stories and propaganda aimed at attacking critics of the government.  Such practices by a large news organization describing itself as “independent” are not only deplorable but also very damaging to Zambian democracy, as citizens are deprived of reliable information and an important counterbalance to the abuse of state power.

From the outset, I must state that I am responding in my personal capacity as an international lawyer and rule of law advocate, not on behalf of any client.  I am a strong believer in freedom of the press and have fought on behalf of journalists and editors who faced threats just for doing their job.  However, “freedom of the press” is not a license to publish false information and slander.

I am also writing you, Mr. M’membe, because in the past you have professed a willingness to offer the right to reply to any persons that might have been named in any edition of the Post Newspaper.  I hope you will take the opportunity to honor that pledge.

It is highly irregular and alarming to see a newspaper editorial solely dedicated to personal attacks against an individual, especially one that is not a public figure or politician.  However, on June 8th, the Post published a libelous editorial titled “The opposition and their mercenary Amsterdam,” which goes beyond the expression of opinions to outright falsehoods. My reply to your editorial is as follows:

In the first place I am not surprised that you have decided to call me a “mercenary” when the truth is the opposite.

We have seen that whenever one dares to come forward with criticism of the Patriotic Front government – be it Hakainde Hichilema, Nevers Mumba, Rupiah Banda or anyone else – it is The Post that is called forward to fire shots from the sniper’s nest.  It is not only normal, but healthy and essential in a democracy for citizens to feel free to express a differing opinion from the government without fear of being the subject of a smear attack in the newspaper, and your editorial practices have contributed to a growing climate of fear of persecution in Zambia.

The only reason you call me a “mercenary” is because I have decided to defend the rights of people who refused to be part of your scheme to defraud the Zambian taxpayer of your unpaid debts, while destroying judicial independence in the process.

The article also denounces me because I am compensated for my work like every lawyer (which would be to say that the Post should be given away for free as well as all its ads placed for free).  I would ask you, Mr. M’membe, to ask any one of my 15 million clients among Thailand’s Red Shirts, one of the largest pro-democracy social movements in the world, most of whom live below the poverty line, if they are worried about my ethics.  I would ask you to telephone Dr. Chee Soon Juan, the Singaporean opposition leader who was recently celebrated at the Oslo Freedom Forum, to ask if I only take cases that I believe in.  As you may know, I was recently denied entry to visit my pro-bono client by the Singaporean authorities, which prompted censure by global human rights advocates Amnesty International.  Now I hear that the Zambian government also seeks to prevent my entry to the country despite having done nothing more than defend my client.  Doesn’t that fact alone raise questions to you that something is not right?

I am proud to represent my clients, former President Rupiah Banda and his son Henry Banda, as they are fine upstanding citizens who have done nothing wrong.  However, the absence of any formal accusation, charge, and much less trial or verdict against them has not stopped The Post from its embarrassing series of smears to attack their reputations at the request of superiors in the Patriotic Front.

I can appreciate that throughout your long career in journalism, you have on occasion exercised courage to publish important articles so that citizens would be informed of government misdeeds.  But those days seem long past.  Despite your newspaper’s motto of “The Paper that Digs Deeper” and your self-proclamation as a “defender of the rights of humanity and the people’s happiness in the world,” you have failed to do so in all matters apart from your matters pertaining to the Patriotic Front (PF) government of President Michael Sata.

Most citizens, businesses, and diplomats have already accepted the fact that the Post Newspaper is no longer independent but rather a mouthpiece of the state (after all, some dozen Post employees were hired by the Sata government, while many others eagerly await postings).  Systematically, the Post Newspaper now operates like a weapon in the hands of a mercenary whose only purpose is to take down anyone who threatens its selfish interests at the expense of public good.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

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