A Lusaka school teacher, Pathias Lungu, had been having a lot of difficulties. According to his sister, the 27-year-old had withdrawn from society, claiming that people were after him. At around 7am on 19 September 2005, he climbed up a radio mast in the suburb of Avondale with the intention of ending it all
The fire brigade, medical personnel and Zambia Police tried to coax him down. Hour after hour passed, as colleagues from his school pleaded with him to come down, and relatives assembled in a house nearby to pray for him.
The drama attracted considerable media attention, with reporters on hand and live commentary on radio as the situation unfolded. After lunch, the fire brigade arrived – but without a ladder. Officers climbed the pole to take him a bottle of water, but he did not accept it.
After 4pm that afternoon, the fire brigade tied a rope to the pole the man was sitting on in order to pull it down with one of their vehicles. Apparently this was an attempt to save him, but in the process, the pole broke, and Lungu fell to his death. A press photographer captured the moment. The Post’s headline on the next day read: Cops, fire brigade fail to prevent man from committing suicide. The paper ran a full spread of pictures of Lungu falling to his death, ending with a close image of his broken body.
The handling of the drama by emergency services attracted considerable criticism in the press, and his family blamed the government. The authorities said they lacked equipment to handle the situation.
Consider these questions:
- Was the Post right in its headline description of the incident as suicide?
- Was it appropriate to cover the tragedy live? Was it appropriate to run a picture spread of Lungu's fall?
- Should the journalists have ignored the story, or were there alternatives?
– Clayson Hamasaka
Evelyn Hone College, Lusaka