Zambia: Erring editor lives to tell his tale.

Author:Kunda, Anthony
Position:Media - Brief Article

When Fred M'membe, editor of Zambia's leading independent newspaper, The Post, published a story last year derailing the strength or lack of it, of the Zambian army and airforce in comparison to Angola, many thought he had overstepped the mark.

M'membe and all his reporters on the daily were arrested within days and charged with espionage, an offence which carries a minimum 25 years imprisonment in Zambia. After a few court sessions, the charges against the reporters were dropped save for M'membe. A high profile trial, lasting more than four months followed, culminating in M'membe's acquittal in January this year.

Speaking to New African just weeks after his court victory, M'membe said the judgement had shamed critics of The Post who said the newspaper had "gone overboard."

"It shows that we did not make a mistake. We were right about this story, right from the beginning. Zambians have a right to know the defence capability of their country in comparison to other countries, if they are to take part in meaningful discussion of the country's security. We are in the business of informing people because an informed public can fight misrule," said M'membe.

The Post, he said, had "helped to further the horizon of press freedom and freedom of expression" because of the case. "We have shown that the culture of shying away from such stories, in the name of state security, is outdated."

M'membe said his newspaper did not want a repeat of what happened during Zimbabwe's liberation war, when the government of former President Kenneth Kaunda kept assuring Zambians that the country was well defended despite repeated attacks by the then Rhodesian airforce planes.

Perhaps after the case, and the advantage of sober reflection, M'membe would see the wrong of his ways. Even in Britain and America, the so-called paragons of press freedom, no newspaper or editor will publish the kind of story he published about the Zambian armed forces. In Britain, such a story would have been covered by D-Notice, and no paper would have been able to publish it. National security issues are taken seriously in the West, and their...

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