FR Richard Luonde says if Zambians had stood and bravely “fought” against the closure of The Post newspaper in June 2016, the impunity of the PF government to crack down on critical media could not have lasted this far.
Adding his voice to the condemnation of the PF government for its decision to suspend, for 30 days, Prime TV’s broadcasting licence, Fr Luonde appealed to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to reconsider its decision.
On March 4, the government, through the IBA, suspended the broadcasting licence of Prime TV and Nyimba’s Valley FM radio with the Authority’s Board chairman Chanda Kasolo saying: “crimes committed against the IBA Act were sufficient for us to withdraw the licences permanently for those two.”
On June 21, 2016, The Post was closed, on taxation pretexts, by the PF government, using the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA).
On Prime TV ‘closure’, Fr Luonde, the Socialist Party (Zambia) spokesperson, said the suspension by the IBA made “very sad reading and is a very awkward, undemocratic action in a democracy.”
“Not long ago, some Zambians were celebrating the closure of The Post newspaper on flimsy and corrupt allegations against the paper. Those who did that thought they had won…. If Zambians had fought bravely the closure of The Post newspaper, things would have ended there,” Fr Luonde said in an interview.
“But the PF government has now seen how porous Zambians are in terms of standing for the truth. When The Post newspaper was closed, some of us knew that that was just the beginning and this is what has happened with the suspension of the broadcasting licence for Prime TV by IBA.”
He said by suspending Prime TV’s broadcasting licence, the IBA “has sent employees of Prime TV into the streets.”
“For 30 days Prime TV will not be able to generate income and when they re-open for broadcasting, they will be in arrears. That means the workers for Prime TV and their dependents will suffer for not just a month but for over a month,” Fr Luonde indicated.
“IBA should be reasonable enough to have that mind of care for other people. Today it’s Prime TV but the other time it will be another station. If they can do this to private media, why can’t the same IBA do it to public media which are so biased against the opposition? Can Fr Luonde and other Zambians who speak critically on national matters be covered by ZNBC? No!”
Fr Luonde said while the IBA had the mandate to suspend, where necessary, broadcasting licences, such ought to be done fairly on both private and public media.
He emphasised that critical media was “very important in every society because they open the mind, ears and eyes of those in leadership.”
“Where you have a praise-singing media like the public media, know that a nation is doomed,” Fr Luonde said.
“The people who made sure that The Post newspaper was closed are the ones who are now being covered by the private media! The public media that gave them a 100 per cent platform stopped covering these people immediately they were no longer holding government positions.”
Meanwhile, Fr Luonde pointed out that any nation with millions of people was supposed to have divergent views on every issue.
He noted that dictators, however, detested criticism and laboured to suppress it.
“Divergence in views helps us to develop and grow as a nation. But wherever there is a dictatorship, channels for critical voices are shut. But we cannot live like that because Zambia is a democracy where everyone is supposed to express themselves on how they feel they are being governed,” explained Fr Luonde.
“So, to begin to crack down on a critical voice in this manner is simply taking us back into ancient times where people would ululate wamuyaya (eternal president).”