The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) together with its member, MiSA Zambia, is dismayed at the decision of the country’s media regulatory body, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to suspend privately owned, Prime Television.
The IBA on March 1, 2019 summoned the management of the TV station to respond to allegations of ‘biased’ reporting levelled against the station by the ruling PF party during Parliamentary by-elections held in Sesheke, a town located in the western province of Zambia. The IBA also ordered the management to render an apology to the Secretary General of the PF party within 14 days.
However, on March 4, 2019, three days after Prime TV was summoned, the IBA at a press briefing announced the suspension of the licence of the TV station for 30 days with immediate effect. Announcing the suspension, the Director General and Board Secretary of the IBA, Josephine Mapoma said the licence of Prime TV had been revoked for exhibiting “unprofessionalism in its broadcasting” through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news material, likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language.
The IBA also indicated it had suspended the licence of Valley FM for 60 days, revoked licences of two other radio stations and issued about 20 licences to different media outlets across Zambia.
Prime Television has been subjected to series of attacks such as verbal and physical assaults from affiliates of PF party including high ranking government officials following the station’s reportage of the Sesheke parliamentary by-elections.
AFEX finds the decision of the IBA which is supposed to be the mediator in resolving the conflict between the TV station and the disgruntled officials of the PF party as hasty, targeted and censoring.
Suspending Prime TV for 30 days means denying citizens who rely on the station to be informed their fundamental right to freedom of expression and access to information which is enshrined in Article 20 of the country’s constitution as well as other regional and international frameworks.
The AFEX network considers it worrying that the IBA is suspending Prime TV after the Deputy Media Director of the PF party, Antonio Mwanza, was quoted a few weeks ago by an online blog, saying the media regulator had been directed to revoke the licence of the station .
AFEX and MiSA Zambia maintain that the IBA is supposed to be independent of any form of influence from any quarters including the ruling government. It is therefore disturbing that it appears the IBA is being used as a tool to silence media houses whose reportage are contrary to the views of the ruling government.
We denounce the suspension of Prime TV as an affront to press freedom. AFEX calls on the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to reinstate the station and allow it to carry out its constitutional duty of informing the public.