THE State has argued that it has not violated the Constitution by ceasing cooperation with Prime Television for its refusal to air free adverts relating to COVID-19 as alleged by the TV station.
Government says the relationship between itself and Prime TV is purely of a commercial nature and each party has the right to terminate that arrangement if they were not satisfied with it.
The State has since urged the Lusaka High Court not to grant the conservatory order sought by Prime Television as it would injure public interest, which requires all media houses to cooperate in the fight against COVID-19.
In this matter, Prime Television limited has petitioned the Lusaka High Court over government’s decision, together with its agents, to cease all cooperation with the television station.
Prime TV has cited the Attorney General Likando Kalaluka, Topstar Communications company limited and MultiChoice Zambia limited seeking a declaration that the decision by government to cease all transactions and business with it was unconstitutional.
It is seeking an order that Topstar and MultiChoice could not remove it from the platforms they manage at the direction of government.
Prime TV is also seeking among other reliefs an order quashing the decision of the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya to cease all cooperation with it and compensation for loss of income and business resulting from the statement of Topstar.
Prime TV said the decision by TopStar to cease business operation with it citing the statement by Siliya hindered its ability to receive information and disseminate information to the general public.
It said the decision by government undermined the principles of a democratic state as it was denying the viewers critical and important governance information.
But the State in its opposition to summons for application for a conservatory order said the position taken by Prime Television “in these difficult times throughout the globe defeats public interest.
The State charged that Prime TV was still at liberty to receive and disseminate information as it still remained validly licensed pursuant to the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act No.17 of 2002 and the TV station was still currently broadcasting through Multichoice platform.
Government explained that it only indicated that it could not have any further dealings with Prim TV.
It said Prime TV’s rights to receive and impart information had not been affected at all by the State merely ceasing collaboration with it.
“For example, if the petitioner so wished, it would have been at liberty to disengage from any business arrangement with the government. If the action was taken by the petitioner that surely would not have given rise to a petition by the government on the basis that the petitioner had violated the Constitution,” the State stated.
It stated that the application for conservatory order should be dismissed for lack of merit because granting the order would injure public interest in a scenario where all media houses refuse to air or publish sensitisation messages in the fight against coronavirus.
The State further argued that the High Court has no jurisdiction to grant conservatory orders against the State.
“In relation to the conservatory order being sought by Prime Television, we submit that this court has no power to grant such an order. An analysis of the order being sought by the petitioner has an effect of an injunctive relief which remedy is not tenable in this jurisdiction in light of section 18 (1) (2) of the States proceedings Act Chapter 71 of the laws of Zambia,” stated the State.
And TopStar Communications company has asked the High Court to refer the matter to arbitration.
TopStar in an affidavit in support of summons to refer matter to arbitration stated that the proceedings commenced against it were in conflict with the arbitration clause and should be stayed pending determination by the arbitrator.
TopStar said the relationship between it and Prime TV was that of a commercial nature and was governed by a service legal agreement signed on January 29, 2019.
“The petitioner has breached the service legal agreement and continues to do so on the part of TopStar through the institution of the petition in the High Court where it is claiming compensation for loss of income and business,” said Topstar
And MultiChoice Zambia argued that the application for a conservatory order lacks merit as the court had no authority to grant the conservatory order sought by the TV station.