Gvt shutting critical media to suffocate freedom of expression – Civil Society
By Staff Reporter
The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) has continued to intimidate the progressive independent media in Zambia in order to stifle critical views, especially during elections, civil society organization has observed.
Commenting on suspension of operating licenses for Prime TV and Valley FM whilst revoking those of Nangoma and Kafue radio stations yesterday, GEARS initiative Executive Director McDonald Chipenzi, said it was unfortunate that the decision was coming at a time when the ruling party officials were complaining against the TV station for allegedly disabling it from winning the Sesheke Central parliamentary by-election election through their reporting and coverage.
But speaking when he appeared on Frank on Hot Radio show this morning, PF chairman for legal affairs Brian Mundubile said, it was unfortunate that once the regulator had exercised it’s legal mandate, the ‘guilty’ party accused it of chocking media freedom.
In a Facebook post, Chipenzi said the Sesheke electoral outcome had not “sat” well with the ruling party who had unashamedly used state institutions to harass, intimidate, transfer, demote and retire several civil servants, teachers and now media on account that they contributed to the ruling party’s electoral loss of the Sesheke seat.
“We wish to mourn the continued assault on media freedoms and suffocation of existence of independent media being occasioned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) against media houses perceived to be critical of government and the ruling party” Chipenzi said, adding that “The decision by the IBA to continuously harass, intimidate and suspend such institutions is a threat to democracy which demands and grows well when there is existence of free and diverse media outlets, key to flourishing of diverse and alternative opinions needed for national development”.
He said the selective punishment being applied only to media stations critical of government and ruling party is clear for all to see and called on IBA to be impartial and treat all media outlets equally if they truly have the desire to enforce and see professionalism, ethical reporting, unbiased news contents, coverage and analysis in all media houses.
“The same IBA, which is now being used as a tool of media suppression and oppression, has not moved on other media outlets that favourably reported and covered the ruling party and unprofessionally and unethically covered and reported on the other players in the democratic process” he said, before urging Prime TV and other affected stations to seek judicial redress on the matter for them to receive justice.
“The actions of the IBA against selected media outlets is already placing a chill hand of unfair, not free and not independent reportage of the electoral process ahead of the Kafue, Bahati and Roan by-elections yet to be held as the other media may be timid to courageously cover and expose electoral irregularities, blackmail and corruption associated with electoral campaigns” he mourned.
Chipenzi claimed that this a strategic way of instilling fear in media houses that may lead to unfair or total black outs of coverage of critical voices by surviving media stations ahead of the 2021 general elections for fear of being suspended or closed down by IBA.
“The suspension and revocation of broadcasting licenses is also insensitive to the families who work at these stations that are dependent on Prime TV and other media outlets affected for their livelihoods, thereby contributing to an already high unemployment rate in the country,” added Chipenzi.
Meanwhile, Mundubile said government was studying what other countries were doing to regulate social media so that there are responsible postings void of propaganda.
“You see what is happening is that I maybe in Mporokoso (in my constituency) campaigning and in the evening I go back home and see pictures of people who have been hacked and bleeding when in the actual sense it may not true. The picture being painted by social media is very alarming and has contributed to many challenges because the other party will then jump on a bus to go and inflict revenge on something that never occurred,” he said.
Recently Minister of Information Dora Siliya announced that the much awaited Freedom of information bill will soon be tabled in parliament but quickly added that this law would be constituted alongside the Media Council (that is in the process of being constituted) which will be mandated to regulate what she termed as “bad journalism”.
Yesterday, IBA board secretary Josephine Mapoma announced the 30 days suspension of Prime TV’s licence for what she terms “broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language”.
According to Mapoma, Prime TV is expected to conduct in-house training on basic journalism ethics and news script writing during the suspension period.
In 2016 the IBA suspended broadcasting licenses for Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itezhi-tezhi Radio for alleged unprofessional conduct in which the three stations conducted themselves and that they were a risk to national peace and security. The licenses of the three institutions were only reinstated after they apologized.
The PF government also infamously closed the Post Newspaper the same year for allegedly failing to settle tax obligations. The Post was an independent Zambian paper and one of the three primary newspapers of the country since 1991.
The closure was described as a politically motivated move over the paper’s frequent criticism of the government at the time.
Some sectors of society are currently concerned that the PF government could be trying to apply the same tactics of manipulating the law to silence critical media like Prime TV who have been giving an alternative voice of the opposition.