The following letter was sent to Mr. Fred M’membe, owner and editor of The Post Newspaper, following the publication of numerous false and defamatory articles concerning Robert Amsterdam, his clients Rupiah Banda and Henry Banda, and other members of the opposition.
Mr. Fred M’membe
Managing Director and Editor
Post Newspapers Ltd
Republic of Zambia
June 15, 2012
RE: FALSE NEWS REPORTS DAMAGE ZAMBIA’S DEMOCRACY
Dear Mr. M’membe,
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 to 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 failures of The Post to report of issues of genuine public interest are numerous. Where was The Post “digging” when the PF Secretary General Wynter Kabimba was announcing that the PF administration was setting up a company on which he is a director to supply petroleum to the Zambian people? Did you deliberately decide to dig in the wrong place to please your masters?
Where was The Post “digging” when the court made a decision ordering you and Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Mutembo Nchito to repay K14 billion of taxpayer’s money to the Development Bank of Zambia? The public good requires that you investigate, report, and analyse the workings of this government controlled bank, or at the very least, disclose the newspaper’s fundamental conflict of interest when reporting on such issues. You have not done so for obvious reasons.
Where was The Post “digging” when the Minister of Finance Mr. Alexander Chikwanda was given a contract to renovate State House without following tender procedures? Where was The Post “digging” when the PF government secretly hired you to print the draft Constitution of Zambia regardless of having Government Printers?
Where was The Post “digging” when the PF government was appointing relatives and party cadres to Senior Diplomatic and Civil Service positions that require highly qualified and professional personnel to benefit the country. Where was The Post “digging” when President Michael Sata donated more fuel to Malawi than was necessarily required, resulting in a fuel shortage in Zambia?
Allow me to refer to your editorial of Sunday 02 Jan. 2011 titled “HE WHO BETRAYS THE POOR BETRAYS CHRIST” the paragraph reads;
“Some truths are hidden in the tangled skein woven in the course of millennia of obscurantism. And the betrayal of the poor, of the weak, of the suffering majority of our country by some clergymen Bishop Mambo is talking about reminds us of how Christ himself was betrayed by his own disciple, his own apostle – Judas Iscariot.
There are many Judases today in all walks of life. We have Judases in the church and in our politics. But Judas might have been the first to betray Christ but he is certainly not the last. We say this because, and as Fidel Castro once aptly put it, “he who betrays the poor betrays Christ”.
Would I be right to say refusing to pay back 14 billion kwacha poor taxpayer’s money is equal to “he who betrays the poor betrays Christ”? Would I also be right to say that there are “some hidden truths in the tangled skein woven in the course” of this transaction? What about other debts held by the Post Newspaper companies? Rumors are that back taxes are piling up.
Before you wrap yourself in the flag I would like to remind you that I am limited to letter writing as I am now banned from Zambia. In respect to that ban and the defamation proceedings lodged against me I should be looking to the independent press. Will the Post newspaper challenge the government? Will it ask questions the government would avoid being asked?
Also refer to a paragraph in your editorial of Sat 16 July 2011 where you boast about the Post newspaper that “We are the only stakeholders or players in the media who have no interests other than the professional tenets of our craft. We don’t have a particular stake in anything. So it may be professional arrogance, but we do believe that our interests in editorial autonomy and independence are also the nation’s interests”. Can this be true today?
Citizens everywhere must be wary of those who hold themselves out as watchdogs of the public trust only to deceive that trust.
Robert. R Amsterdam