Criminality in journalism

There is no place for criminality in journalism.

Sneaking a listening device into a private home and then divulging the content of the subsequent discussion is not journalism; it is pure criminality, because it offends the sense of justice and fairness to the unsuspecting news sources who operate on a condition of trust.

No professional journalist will allow such an outrage.

Journalism is a profession that relies on trust.  It operates on a common code of conduct which recognizes the fact that a journalist may interact with a news source informally over a meal or drinks while keeping in mind the difference between legitimate business and personal friendship.

Surreptitious recording or indeed reporting of a source is a betrayal of trust which borders on criminality and is therefore frowned upon by the profession.

A well respected and popular British newspaper the News of the World closed down following revelations of illegal eaves-dropping and wire-tapping.

In closing down the newspaper News International chairman James Murdoch said the illegal eavesdropping “sullied” the newspaper and “has no place in our company”.

The 168-year-old newspaper, which sold more than 2.5 million copies every Sunday, was brought down by an avalanche of public and political fury – in the wake of revelations of widespread eaves-dropping and wire-tapping for which senior management were arraigned in courts of law.

The principle of  “detrimental reliance”, ,although not commonly applied in Zambia, means that a source who discloses information on the understanding of confidentiality has every right to hold   a journalist liable who discloses the identity of the source.

This was the case in the United States where the Supreme Court in the case of Cohen V Cowles Media Co 501 U.S. 663(1991), ruled that it was in order to punish two reporters under the doctrine of “detrimental reliance” for breaking their promises to keep a source’s identity confidential.

Article 17 of our own Constitution recognizes the privacy of an individual’s residence. Law enforcement agencies require a search warrant to enter a home, just as they do to wiretap.

Private citizens are not allowed to intercept any communication and divulge the result of such interception. Wire-tapping creates two wrongs; a civil wrong or tort of trespass – being the unlawful intrusion that interferes with one’s privacy.

In this case an aggrieved party can bring a civil law suit.

It also gives rise to criminal trespass against section 306 of the Penal Code of the Laws of Zambia which outlaws any trespass into a private home for the purposes of annoying the owner. It does not matter if such entry was lawful or unlawful.

Clearly sneaking into a home with the  prior purpose of recoding and thereafter publishing a discussion is a trespass that abrogates the law.

It is important that the media practitioners in Zambia awoke to the very serious abuse of the profession. The disrepute it will suffer will take a long time to recover.

 Electricity debacle

 Time has come for the Government to take decisive action to resolve the current impasse at the Konkola Copper Mines.

It is unacceptable that production at the company has been adversely affected on account of electricity restrictions, which could have been resolved before degenerating into the impasse that will now result in heavy production losses.

The fact that electricity generated at great cost by Zesco, a State enterprise, is being wasted in order to settle a business difference should be condemned in the strongest terms possible.

Indeed the Government may have to look again at the role that CEC is playing as an intermediary in a business  in which it has no direct production role.