The PF’s Online Army of Cadres
Ahead of a possible presidential by-election, Patriotic Front (PF) government has unleashed an army of party cadres trained in social media skills to attack and malign citizens and organizations that are critical President Michael Sata’s administration on the Internet.
The PF online army was recently been ordered to specifically rebuff any criticism and question of Michael Sata’s whereabouts and his failing health in order to project the PF as Zambia’s best performing government in the country.
The PF cadres who have undergone some formal orientation in the use of Web 2.0 resources have been given specific instructions to defend the government against those criticizing the regime and to attack and malign others.
So far, the PF cadres have established platforms on social media such as face Book and Twitter where they are operating anonymously or using fake names and addresses.
According to sources, some of the PF cadres who are operating malicious social media platforms are journalists based at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) in Lusaka. The names of these journalists have been withheld.
“These journalists who are part of the group that is running a malicious Face Book page that has targeted the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), its president and party members. These journalists are part of the group that was recruited from MUVI Television to ZNBC by the PF soon after the 2011 general elections,” the source said.
Not long ago, Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, who is also PF secretary general officiated at a series of training programmes for party youths in selected parts of the country such as Southern, Copperbelt, Lusaka and Eastern provinces where he was the guest of honbour during the social media training events.
Zambia Reports is in the process of investigating an allegation that Lusaka businessman Rajan Mahtani is funding some of the online media work where he releases about K10, 000 every Friday for operations.
According to the sources, Mahtani is interested in supporting the PF online work because he wants to use the social media as a public relations tool to launder his name.
“Actually, this K10, 000 is collected by Sata’s spokesperson George Chellah every Friday and sometimes he picks the cash from Finance Bank headquarters in Lusaka,” the source said.
But Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Joseph Katema has blamed journalists running online news websites for using the online spaces to attack the government.
Katema said in Lusaka that the online media was dividing the nation because the social media and blogs were being used to attack the government and spread false information.
He said he was not aware of party members who were recently trained in the use of social media, but he there was need to observe professionalism and ethics even when reporting news over the Internet.
Katema is one of the PF ministers who have been against online media in Zambia. As minister in charge of media, he once threatened to hunt down journalists operating social media accusing them of spreading hate speech and propaganda against the government.
In Zambia, journalists operating news websites are threatened with arrests, beatings and other forms of attack by the police and other supporters of the government.
Online media freedom does not exist in Zambia because it is not viewed as a tool used to attack the PF.