Maputo, 7 Mar (AIM) – Mozambique’s publicly owned electricity company, EDM, is suing Armindo Vilanculos, a journalist on the Kusinga community radio for alleged libel.
The case dates back to 8 November last year, when Vilanculos denounced a scheme of corruption and theft of electricity involving an EDM staff member in the district of Massinga, in the southern province of Inhambane.
According to the Radio’s sources, the report resulted from a denunciation made by the Conze community in Massinga town who protested at “the existence in certain parts of this neighbourhood of residences with privileged access to electric power, to the detriment of others”.
Residents interviewed by the radio at the time said they had to pay bribes to ensure that electricity reached their homes. “Access to electricity”, they alleged, “was only possible through payment of 6,000 meticais (slightly less than 100 US dollars, at the current exchange rate) per residence”.
This is in sharp contradiction to EDM’s official policy, which is that electricity connections and repairs are free of charge.
After collecting the data from the whistle-blowers, Radio Kusinga attempt to interview the local EDM director, Nito Silvestre Adriano. He refused to speak to the radio’s reporters, on the grounds that the company has a spokesperson whose responsibilities include speaking to the media.
Nonetheless the community radio went ahead and ran the story. On Monday, almost four months later, Armindo Vilanculos received a notification from the Massinga district attorney’s office, to answer questions about the case.
The Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body, MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) deplored what it regarded as “intimidation and harassment” of a reporter by EDM. MISA believed it took courage to denounce acts of corruption in state-owned companies, such as EDM.
MISA found it surprising that the EDM director was more interested in pressing charges against the journalist, instead of investigating the claims made by the radio.
The director, MISA accused, was “threatening the editorial independence of journalists”. He also appeared to be covering up for acts of corruption committed in the company, and evading his responsibility to ensure transparent management.
The director was within his rights to refuse to give an interview, but that did not mean that the journalist was barred from broadcasting the matter. MISA promises to follow the case and “to provide all the support necessary to defend the journalist and the Kusinga radio”.