(By Oliver Chisenga and Chambwa Moonga)
WE will not allow you to use legal institutions to abuse your power in closing Prime Television the way you closed The Post, Chishimba Kambwili has warned the government.
The government through the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has suspended the licence of Prime Television for thirty days over broadcasts that are deemed to have potential to cause unrest, among other reasons.
Commenting on the development, Kambwili, a former information minister, said he would talk to the opposition alliance to give the PF government and IBA, 48 hours to reinstate operations of Prime TV.
He said the decision to suspend Prime TV operations would be met with maximum force.
He said he would to the Opposition Alliance to strategise on a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Prime Television.
“We are not going to allow the PF government to be using IBA to start closing up media houses because that is gagging of the fourth estate. We are all aware that this fight between the PF party, particularly [Davies] Mwila their SG (secretary general) and Prime TV started when Mwila chased away the journalists from his press briefing. He was condemned by all professionals in society but we did not see IBA condemning what he did,” Kambwili said.
He accused Mwila of masterminding Prime TV suspension.
“But today because Mwila makes one complaint, IBA directs that Prime TV apologises and subsequently suspend their licence for 30 days! We want to warn the PF, President Edgar Lungu and his government that this gagging of the media, abusing IBA to suspend or revoke licences will be met with maximum force,” Kambwili said. “I will be speaking to alliance partners this afternoon so that we apply for a permit from the police for a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Prime Television. What has happened is an abuse of legal institutions by the PF and we want to warn the PF that they should leave legal institutions to operate professionally and according to statutes. Everybody knows, including a small child can tell, that this suspension has been instigated by Mwila and the PF government through President Edgar Lungu.”
Kambwili said the PF was applying ancient actions towards the media.
“This is to gag the media so as we go to 2021 elections the media is intimidated. This will not be tolerated because these are archaic actions of the 1970s that shall not be tolerated in the democratic state like Zambia. The media is the fourth estate and citizens of this country are entitled to have information whether good or bad but the information must be disseminated through the media. To start intimidating the media for the purpose of political expedience will not be tolerated,” Kambwili said.
He wondered why institutions like the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation have not been censured for biased coverage.
“How many times have Zambians complained about the biassed reporting of ZNBC? If there is a media house that is supposed to be closed or suspended it is ZNBC because all you see on ZNBC is government and PF cadres issuing statements. The biasness ZNBC exhibits cannot be compared to one incident at Prime TV,” said Kambwili. “Let them not close Prime TV the way they closed The Post. We are not going to accept that. We are going to give the government and the PF, Mwila and IBA 48 hours in which to reinstate operation of Prime TV.”
And Prime TV proprietor Gerald Shawa said the closure of his station was unlawful.
“They didn’t follow the right procedure because what was supposed to be done was for them to give us the guidelines if they feel we are not working within the guidelines. If we failed to adhere or follow the said guidelines, then they should have warned us. But they didn’t do that! Also the apology issue (laughs) you can see that it’s politically-motivated. We went for hearing and they were sort of just trapping us,” he said.
On the suggestion that the station conducts an in-house training for its journalists, Shawa responded: “That’s just a cover-up! It’s because Davies Mwila complained and they (PF) lost [in] Sesheke because we were bringing out facts. That’s all. We were showing everything and they didn’t like that.”
IBA Board chairman Chanda Kasolo said “crimes committed against the IBA Act were sufficient for us to withdraw the licences permanently for those two (Prime TV and Valley FM of Nyimba).”
Briefing journalists in Lusaka, IBA director general Josephine Mapoma said the authority had issued 22 radio licences on conditional basis.
Mapoma said the conditions included development of complaints procedure and ethical guidelines and payment of licence fees.
“The move to award broadcast licences is aimed at promoting a diverse and pluralistic broadcasting sector in Zambia,” Mapoma indicated.
The new radio stations are in Eastern, Copperbelt, Southern, Muchinga, Luapula, Lusaka, North-Western and Northern provinces.
Mapoma also explained that the IBA Board allowed nine radio stations to expand their broadcasts beyond their initial coverage area.
The radio stations are Flava, Maranatha, Kokoliko, One Love, Breeze, Byta, Petauke Explorer, Millennium and Sun.
On suspensions, Mapoma revealed that Valley FM radio of Nyimba district has been suspended for 60 days “due to unprofessional conduct.”
She said the unprofessionalism of the radio station was manifested by its failure to moderate and balance a discussion programme.
“During the suspension, the station is expected to develop an editorial policy and recruit trained journalists. The station should also conduct training for the board, management and staff on corporate governance and ethical broadcasting,” Mapoma explained.
“In addition, Valley FM should air a public apology to chief Ndake for the embarrassment suffered due to the station’s broadcast, which featured an impersonator that misguided listeners. The station must also develop complaints procedures for receiving and addressing complaints.”
On Prime TV, Mapoma said the suspension of its licence was for 30 days.
She added that the IBA Board found that the privately-owned TV station had exhibited “unprofessional elements in its broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language.”
Mapoma further explained that Prime TV was not only in breach of the IBA Act but also of its own guidelines, among them duty to remain balanced, fair and impartial in their coverage.
“During the suspension period, Prime Television is expected to conduct in-house training on basic journalism ethics and news script writing,” she said.
“You may wish to know that both Valley FM and Prime Television were given an opportunity to be heard and their suspensions are pursuant to Section 29 (1) (k) of the IBA amendment Act (2010).”
Mapoma indicated that in the case of Prime TV, the suspension was also pursuant to Section 29 (1)(i) of the IBA amendment Act.
Asked for his comment on some people who allege political interference in the operations of the IBA Board, Kasolo, who is Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary, said: “My response is very simple; they don’t know me.”
“I don’t get moved by anybody who think they are…. If, for instance, I had pressure from the ruling party and I couldn’t agree, I would resign. Why should I stay when I’m going against my own instincts? No, no, no. I don’t do that,” Kasolo said.
“For us it’s a professional operation, I can assure the public. No matter what anyone alleges, we do our business in accordance with the mandate we are given. Go and read the IBA Act; I know we Zambians don’t like reading.”
Kasolo said the IBA Act gave the Board a lot of power and “I can even tell you that for the two that have been suspended, we could have withdrawn the licences.”
“But we just sat and consulted the general public to find out how far we should go. We even included royal highnesses in this exercise! So, we have been very reasonable in what we have done,” Kasolo said.
He underscored that the IBA was there to build a diversified media fraternity and “we’ll stick to that.”
“The crimes committed against the IBA Act were sufficient for us to withdraw the licences permanently for those two. [But] we haven’t; we have given them a chance,” Kasolo said.
“I hope that this exercise that has been ongoing for the past month or two since I have been chair of the IBA [Board] will teach a lot of our friends in the media fraternity that we are going to be very strict and follow the IBA Act. For me, it’s nothing to do with politics; please forget about the political angle.”
He said the suspensions and revocations were with immediate effect.
“I know that certain people feel they should now attack my staff under IBA, especially the Board secretary (Mapoma). It is very unfair because all lies will be what they are; what goes round comes round,” said Kasolo.
“We are doing a professional job [and] I’m proud of this team here and I’ll continue defending and supporting them. So, for those of you that feel that they should attack my staff, attack me. I can handle it!”
Meanwhile, the IBA Board announced that it had revoked the broadcasting licences of Ngoma radio of Luanshya and Kafue radio.
Mapoma explained that Ngoma radio’s licence had been revoked due to non-payment of the initial licence fees and subsequent annual operating fees.
“The station has failed, refused or neglected to pay any sum to the Authority for any broadcast service provided,” she said.
“The due process of the law was followed by serving several notices on the station, including physical visitations. Ngoma radio was given an opportunity to be heard.”
The licence for Kafue radio, according to Mapoma, was revoked for reasons similar to those for Ngoma radio.