We are extremely concerned at the decision of this government to suspend the broadcasting licence of Prime TV.
However, it would appear that Prime TV has been targeted by this government for its coverage of the opposition and other dissenting voices.
We call on this government to immediately rescind its decision.
Freedom of the media is fundamental to any democratic regime and we would invite this government to accept that criticism and political dissent are traditional elements of any society.
In seeking to prevent criticism, this government is hindering the free flow of information and stifling discussion and debate in the country.
Furthermore, the decision is in breach of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas”.
We are saying this is a government decision and action because there’s really nothing independent about the so-called Independent Broadcasting Authority. It’s simply a department of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services.
And concerning the procedure used to withdraw the licence, we are concerned that there appear to be no proper appeals procedure and there are real fears that this government has made an arbitrary decision without providing the necessary considerations.
We are deeply concerned about this drastic action by the government not only because of what it indicates about the state of media freedom in this country, but also because of the impact such a sudden closure can have on the over many persons who are employed by Prime TV. Closure of a media house for any period of time has very serious consequences on its operations.
The reason given by the government for the action is related to a news item broadcast by Prime TV on the violence that rocked the Sesheke parliamentary by-election which the ruling party lost.
Suspending Prime TV’s license for thirty days, the government accused the privately-owned TV station of exhibiting “unprofessional elements in its broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language”.
We are firmly committed to the principle of social responsibility of the media. However, we are extremely concerned about the arbitrary nature of the suspension of Prime TV’s broadcasting license. The lack of due process in such a situation can lead to the targeting of specific media persons and institutions and to the silencing of independent reporting.
The public is deprived of access to information and other programmes offered by Prime TV and many media persons are facing an uncertain future.
We are afraid that such arbitrary action on the part of the government could set a dangerous precedent for undermining the freedom of expression in Zambia. We condemn the behaviour of the authorities in this regard, and call for an immediate restitution of Prime TV’s license.
We also call on this government to adopt a more democratic and consultative stand in dealing with media personnel and institutions in the broader interests of democratic practice in Zambia.
We all know very well that fascism thrives in obscurity and darkness.
Nelson Mandela has set very valuable guidance on how a government should deal with media deficiencies.
Officiating at the 10th anniversary of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg in 2002, Nelson Mandela said “none of our irritations with the perceived inadequacies of the media should ever allow us to even suggest faintly that the independence of the press could be compromised or coerced”./LM