AMNESTY International says the suspension of Prime TV is a ploy to muzzle independent media voices in Zambia and to undermine the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. And the Non-governmental Gender Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) has urged the Independent Broadcasting Authority to immediately lift the ban and allow Prime Television to operate freely. Meanwhile, Panos Institute Southern Africa has called on IBA to rescind the suspension of Prime TV’s broadcasting licence.
IBA on Monday suspended Prime TV operations for 30 days, citing failure to comply with the conditions of its broadcasting license. This follows a complaint by PF secretary general Davies Mwila. Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said the IBA unlawful suspension must be immediately lifted to allow Prime TV to continue telling the Zambian story as it unfolds.
“Zambia can only benefit from the plurality of media voices. The suspension of Prime TV is a ploy to muzzle independent media voices in Zambia and to undermine the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. It is clearly intended to send a chilling message that journalists need to self-censor or face dire consequences,” he said.
Media freedom has been under attack in Zambia in recent years.
In 2016, authorities sanctioned the closure of the The Post newspaper, one of the country’s longest serving independent newspaper. Its owner, Dr Fred M’membe, and news editor Joseph Mwenda, had been previously brutalised by the police for the newspaper’s critical reporting. NGOCC executive director Engwase Mwale said NGOCC had learnt with sadness the decision by IBA.
Mwale said the Republican Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression and subsequently freedom of the press.
“The decision by the IBA is not only ultra vires the Republican Constitution, but is also draconian and reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. It is NGOCC’s considered view that the suspension appears to be intended to intimidate and muzzle the media to instill fear in terms of independent and unbiased reporting,” she said.
Mwale reiterated NGOCC’s position that the role of the media in any democracy was an important aspect of governance. She said apart from entertaining and informing, the media plays a critical role in educating the masses.
“We therefore find the suspension of Prime Television as a serious affront against the masses that depend on this station. We demand that the IBA should immediately lift the ban and allow Prime Television to operate freely. Even the Patriotic Front (PF) Party manifesto agrees with our position on the need for greater press freedom for the greater good of the country,” said Mwale.
Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) executive director Lilian Saka Kiefer encouraged the IBA to use other channels other than suspension of broadcasting licenses to address any issues or concerns relating to the professional conduct of a media house.
“…on 4th March 2019, the IBA wrote to Prime TV management informing them that following a hearing held on 1st March 2019, the authority had resolved to suspend Prime TV’s broadcasting license for 30 days. The reason cited for the suspension were that the station “failed…to comply with the conditions of the broadcasting license”. During the suspension, Prime TV ‘is expected to conduct in-house training in basic journalism ethics and news script writing’,” she said.
Kiefer said Panos was of the view that suspension of the broadcasting licence of one of the country’s leading broadcasters would instill fear in other broadcasters, and “this may contribute to muzzling of media space and freedom of the media to inform, educate and entertain without fear or favour.”
She said Panos was of the view that the IBA had at its disposal other means or avenues of engaging prime TV and other media houses without taking such severe action.
“We reiterate that the media is an important driver of Zambia’s democracy. When the media is restricted through suspensions as is the case with Prime TV, citizens are deprived of platforms through which they can speak truth to power and hold their leaders to account. This limits the extent to which citizens can access and share information on developmental issues of concern to them and their communities,” she said.
Kiefer appealed to the IBA to reconsider its stance, and immediately lift the suspension of Prime TV’s broadcasting licence.