DR Fred M’membe is demanding the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Prime Television’s licence.
Dr M’membe, the Press Freedom Hero of the United Nations affiliated International Press Institute and now Socialist Party president, said “this government has had great success in snuffing out critical journalism”.
He “strongly” condemned the closure of Prime Television following the cancellation of their broadcasting licence by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) citing the so-called ‘Public Interest’.
“There is an obvious tension between journalists who are attempting to perform their proper democratic function and antidemocratic politicians that are determined to retain power. The innovative and courageous work of Prime TV and other independent news media outlets offers hope that even in the most desperate circumstances, those who are committed to distributing information in the public interest can find a way,” he said on behalf of Socialist Party politburo. “But these journalists alone cannot address the needs of millions of Zambians who still have access to little more than their government’s narrative and must rely on their own instincts and observations to assess the claims of corrupt and abusive leaders.”
Dr M’membe noted that the Zambia Police had taken over the premises of Prime Television station and sealed the place.
He said over 15 heavily armed police officers were guarding the place and had chased the workers.
Nascent Prime TV has over 100 employees.
“This is lawlessness and impunity from a reckless government. What right do they have to take over private property? From what we know they have cancelled a broadcasting licence, that does not give them the power to take over a citizen’s property. This lawlessness, lack of respect for citizens’ property rights is very annoying,” Dr M’membe said. “It is evident that the targeting, victimisation and now closure of Prime TV is not accidental nor an isolated occurrence. It is instead, part of a consistent campaign to destroy and ultimately eradicate all credible independent media that exists to educate and inform the Zambian people while refusing to be compromised by the government. They have done so much wrong that their preoccupation now is not to correct those wrongs or to govern but to do whatever it takes to remain in power and, that way, stop their possible prosecution.”
He said over the last six years, media freedom in Zambia has been eroded.
“This government has had great success in snuffing out critical journalism,” Dr M’membe said. “We retaliate that this breakdown of media freedom in our country is closely related to the broader decline of democracy. Although the media is not always the first institution to be attacked when a country’s leadership takes an antidemocratic turn, repression of free media is a strong indication that other political rights and civil liberties are in grave danger.”
He said a free and independent media sector that can keep the population informed and hold leaders to account is as crucial for a strong and sustainable democracy as free and fair elections.
Dr M’membe argued that without a free media, citizens cannot make informed decisions about how they are ruled, and abuse of power, which is all but inevitable in any society, cannot be exposed and corrected.
“We have an individual and collective duty to ensure that the actions of this government do not excuse or inspire violations of press freedom and democracy. We all have an individual and collective role to play in maintaining media freedom,” said Dr M’membe. “We must all defend uncompromising independent media such as Prime TV and our democracy!”
On Thursday, IBA board secretary/director general Josephine Mapoma announced the cancellation with immediate effect of Prime TV’s licence.
“The cancellation is pursuant to Section 29 (1) (j) and (k) of the IBA (Amendment)Act of 2010 which provides that the Board may cancel a broadcasting licence if: ‘The cancellation of the licence is necessary in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order’. ‘The Board considers it appropriate in the circumstances of the case to do so’. Please note that with this letter, Prime Television’s licence is now void and should be surrendered to the Authority,” said Mapoma. “However, the Station is at liberty to appeal against the decision of the Board to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services within thirty (30) days, in accordance with Section 31 (1) of the IBA Amendment Act of 2010.”
Early this month, the government cut its dealings with Prime TV and instructed its agencies to cancel all business transactions with the private station, over the TV’s alleged refusal to broadcast gratis government messages on COVID-19 fight.
“The cessation of operation entails that the Government of the Republic of Zambia, and any of its agents, shall not conduct any media transactions with Prime Television station. There shall be no appearance of public officers and officials on Prime Television programmes whether paid for or otherwise until further notice,” said chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya. “Government also wishes to categorically state that journalists from Prime Television shall not be invited to cover any government-related business. All ministries, provinces and other spending agencies are henceforth advised to cancel all business transactions that they may have with Prime Television Station and to cease any form of cooperation with the broadcasting station.”