TRANSPARENCY International Zambia president Reuben Lifuka says it is hypocritical that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is prepared to take drastic measures against a few media houses and elect to remain silent about glaring unbalanced coverage and opinionated news which is the main feature of the public broadcaster.
Lifuka said the PF government has persistently sought ways of undermining the work of independent media outlets perceived to be overly critical of the regime.
He said in the last couple of years and specifically under the current PF administration, the space for independent media to do its work continues to shrink.
“This betrays an important fundamental which made Zambians rise against the Kenneth Kaunda government under UNIP. We were tired of desire by the State to regulate and legislate for only one way of looking at issues to the detriment of individual thoughts and expression. We fought for a return to multiparty democracy so that we could claim our inherent rights and freedoms. A central pillar of any democracy is the extent to which ordinary citizens have the freedom to hold opinions, seek information and subsequently hold duty bearers to account,” Lifuka said. “The media as the fourth estate, has a critical role in informing, educating and entertaining the people, and indeed the media should discharge their functions in a professional and ethical manner. However, professionalism and ethical conduct of the media should not be equated with conformity with one narrative or patriotism. The independent media in particular, has to serve as a counterbalance to the propaganda usually churned out through the public broadcaster.”
Lifuka condemned the decision by the Independent Broadcasting Authority to suspend the licence of Prime TV for 30 days.
He said it was interesting if not sad that the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya, whose permanent secretary was the chairperson of the board of the IBA, claims to be ignorant of the reasons for the suspension of the license of Prime TV, and yet IBA issued a press statement on March 4, posted on their website giving the reasons for their decision.
He said TIZ does not condone any acts by media houses to incite violence and “this should not be allowed to take root in the country.”
Lifuka said the actions by IBA, in fact, confirmed the summary made by Freedom House in its “Freedom in the World 2018 report” on press freedom in Zambia which stated that “Freedom of the Press is constitutionally guaranteed, but restricted in practice. Outlets perceived as aligned with the opposition are subject to arbitrary closure by authorities. Journalists risk trumped up law suits and harassment by government and political party supporters and self-censorship, remain common.”
He said it would seem the country was making no serious efforts to change that perspective held by the international community about lack of respect for press freedom.
“We do appreciate that there are some flaws in the conduct of some media houses but this is not justification for the IBA to take unnecessary and openly biased draconian measures. The question is why has IBA failed to act on numerous public complaints about the unbalanced coverage and opinionated news by ZNBC, in spite of the provision in the law which gives IBA the powers to ‘receive, investigate and decide on complaints concerning broadcasting services including public broadcasting services’?” Lifuka said.
He reminded IBA board and the government of the noble intentions of the body as highlighted in the Independent Broadcasting Act.
“This body exists primarily to promote a pluralistic broadcasting industry in Zambia. This is in recognition of the simple fact that in a democracy like ours, there should be tolerance for divergent views. The opening up of the airwaves was intended to accommodate the different views and demands for information by citizens. No one should even contemplate trying to legislate for one common opinion among citizens because it will be an exercise in futility unless, by some stroke of misfortune, we revert to the inglorious days of the ‘One Party Participatory Democracy.’ Different media houses serve different audiences and the citizenry should not be subjected to one source of information,” Lifuka said.
“Unfortunately, the decision taken by IBA on Prime TV does not instil trust and public confidence, instead it raises questions on the independence and relevance of the Authority. IBA should focus on promoting and nurturing nascent private media houses. “
Lifuka asked IBA to immediately lift the suspension and allow Prime Television to operate freely without any intimidation and outside influence.
He appealed to those in authority, especially the political players to allow the media to operate freely and objectively because a free media was key for any country to achieve meaningful development especially in the fight against corruption.
“The public would like to access credible information at all times and the media should not betray this trust and responsibility to be the mirror of society. There cannot be any substitute for professional journalism and each media house should invest in building strong credentials which are above reproach,” said Lifuka.
Meanwhile, the Zambia Institute of Independent Media Alliance (ZIIMA) has demanded the resignation of IBA director general Josephine Mapoma and her deputy Eustace Nkandu on moral grounds.
ZIIMA president Jajah Coulibaly in a statement stated that the alliance felt IBA was fighting partisan political battles using a public institution created by an Act of Parliament and operating on public funds.
“This amounts to abuse of authority of office,” he stated.
He stated that in the current form, the IBA was not representing the interests of media houses they regulate but those of the specific preferred complainants and yet one of their roles is to hear both parties and possibly harmonise the cause of conflict.
“Ms Mapoma and Mr Nkandu are acting on political instructions and that is killing media freedom in a developing nation like Zambia. Media freedom is a vital aspect for adequate development. Ms. Mapoma and Mr Nkandu must not usurp the powers of news editors by assuming the role of managing editors on the angles of news stories a media house wants to air,” he said. “ZIIMA is dismayed with the fact the IBA is controlling content, especially in newsrooms by wanting to rewrite news scripts according to what comforts them and feel that is newsworthy. Madam Mapoma and Mr Nkandu must know that their actions have the potential to cost the country on donor and investor confidence because their actions were a direct assault and infringement on the people’s voices by closing Prime TV and other radio stations.”