THE three church mother bodies say the decision by the Independent Broadcasting Authority to suspend Prime TV is not only embarrassing to the government, but also shows how dead the consciences of those in government have become. Meanwhile, Prime Television has appealed against the Independent Broadcasting Authority’s decision to suspend its licence for 30 days.
And Actionaid Zambia says a country that is intolerant to press freedom cannot be trusted by investors or donors.
In a statement, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) stated that it was clear for every well-meaning Zambians to draw a line between the government owned media institutions and Prime TV in terms of professional and balanced coverage of news in the country.
“It is also our view that the grounds IBA has used to suspend the broadcasting licence of Prime TV must have been applied first on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia before applying them on any other media house. Further, it is hypocritical to allow the suspension of a broadcasting licence of a private media house when government owned and controlled media outlets have miserably been unprofessional and unethical in the manner they cover news in the country, more especially during election times,” they stated.
They condemned the suspension of Prime TV’s licence by the IBA for 30 days over broadcasts that were deemed to have potential to cause unrest.
“The decision by the Independent Broadcasting Authority to suspend Prime TV is not only embarrassing to the government, but also it shows how dead the consciences of those in government have become. As a country that aspires to be Christian, we strongly believe that both government and IBA need to have recourse to the biblical principle as enshrined in the Gospel of Mathew 7:3-5 that a man cannot remove a speck from their brother’s eye when they themselves have not first removed the plank from their own eye,” they stated.
They called for an end to the kind of behaviour portraying double standards being applied and does not promote Zambia’s democratic credentials. The church bodies stated that office bearers had the duty to ensure that the law was applied fairly on all citizens and institutions, unlike what was obtaining on the ground. They added that the action by IBA had the potential of being construed as a harassment and intimidation of institutions that do not dance to the tune of the government and the ruling party, and constitutes a threat to democracy.
“The suspension will also negatively affect the employees of the private media house and their families. We hope that Prime TV will use and exhaust every legal channel in this matter to pursue justice. Finally, we call upon IBA to seriously consider lifting the suspension of the broadcasting licence of Prime TV with immediate effect and allow the media house to operate freely without any intimidation,” stated the Church.
And ActionAid country director Nalucha Nganga Ziba said her orgaisation was utterly shocked and deeply saddened by the Independent Broadcasting Authority’s decision to suspend the broadcast licence for Prime TV for 30 days.
Ziba said the decision to suspend Prime TV’s licence follows several events involving the PF secretary general Davies Mwila and the television’s staff, which later led to the former writing a complaint letter to the IBA against the media organisation.
“What followed next was a directive that Prime TV must apologise to Mr Mwila without hearing the television station’s side. This is in total disregard of IBA’s own code of conduct and complaints procedure which stipulates that a media house is given 14 days in which to respond to complaints raised against it before the complainant can write to the IBA on the matter,” she said. “This is unacceptable! What the IBA must not forget are the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi who taught us to appreciate that freedom of the press is a precious privilege that no country can forego. Freedom of the press guarantees free flow of ideas in a democracy. Without a free press, there can therefore be no democracy at all. Whatever disagreements there could have been between IBA and Prime TV, the decision taken to suspend the station’s broadcast licence is extreme and against provisions of our Republican Constitution which guarantees freedom of the press and expression.”
She said the decision taken on Prime TV was meant to gag the press and whip them into submission to the desires of the most powerful, a trend widely seen in totalitarian regimes.
Ziba said even if the provisions of the law in Section 36 of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act dictate punishment against an erring broadcast house, for the sake of upholding key tenets of democracy, the IBA should have used other channels to address whatever grievances they or other stakeholders, might have had against Prime TV than resorting to extreme measures that only serve to worsen the country’s standing on the global scene.
“ActionAid Zambia believes the IBA is more than capable to handle complaints against a media house in a manner that does not stifle the much-needed freedoms of the press. The IBA must make itself relevant by playing the role of promoting pluralism and professionalism in media than acting as a body that victimises the institutions that it should protect,” she said. “A country that is intolerant to press freedom cannot be trusted by the investors or donors. In fact, its own citizens equally lose trust in it. We, therefore, demand the immediate lifting of the suspension of Prime TV’s licence and ask that the IBA undertakes reasonable measures to address some of the concerns that may have been raised against the private television station.”
Ziba said closure or suspension of a licence for an institution for some irritations regarding its reporting was nothing but clear cowardice.
“What Albert Camus said that, “a free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom, a press will never be anything but bad” is a warning to the IBA and the government that resorting to suspensions or revocations of licences will in effect worsen the situation. Ultimately, the media may fall into self-censorship, which is the worst enemy of a democracy. No government or institution should sort out a problem by creating another problem!” said Ziba.
And the United States has urged the Zambian government to reverse the suspension of Prime TV’s licence.
In a statement, US Embassy public affairs officer Sean McIntosh stated that his government remained a staunch advocate for inherent human freedoms around the world.
“U.S. Embassy Lusaka joins other voices in concern over the Independent Broadcast Authority’s decision to suspend Prime TV’s broadcasting license. The fundamental freedoms of speech and the press are critical for the advancement of a vibrant democracy,” McIntosh stated. “The United States finds the suspension of Prime TV’s license counterproductive to upholding these principles, and encourages an urgent reconsideration of this action.”
In a letter to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Dora Siliya dated March 5, 2019, Prime Television director Gerald Shawa stated that a suspension was not the only remedy available to address what the IBA termed as unprofessional practice by the station.
“We write to appeal against the IBA decision to suspend our broadcasting license for 30 days in their letter state 4th February 2019 pursuant to Section 31 (1) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act No.26 of 2010,” reads the letter in part.
“Given the immediate economic effects on the broadcast institution that would follow as a result of the IBA decision, we request that your ministry reviews the IBA action and reduce it to a warning with specific guidelines as has been the practice with other institutions before. We hope and pray that our request is favourably considered.”