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Verbal and physical onslaught against private TV station by Zambia's ruling party

People walk by a billboard with a picture of the incumbent president Edgar Lungu, of the PF ruling Party, ahead of Presidential and legislative elections in Lusaka, Zambia, 9 August 2016
People walk by a billboard with a picture of the incumbent president Edgar Lungu, of the PF ruling Party, ahead of Presidential and legislative elections in Lusaka, Zambia, 9 August 2016

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on africafex.org on 28 February 2019.

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) firmly condemns the recent attacks by affiliates of Zambia's ruling, Patriotic Front (PF) party against Prime Television based in the capital, Lusaka.

The privately owned TV station has come under attack following its reportage on the Sesheke parliamentary by-elections.

On January 26, 2019, the Secretary General of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, Davies Mwila, dismissed Prime TV reporters from a press briefing he was addressing. He also declared publicly that Prime Television is barred from covering all activities of his political party. The comments by the Secretary General of PF has incited cadres of the party against journalists working with the TV station.

In the most recent attacks against the station, a group of young people believed to be a pro-PF vigilante group reportedly attacked three reporters of the station in separate incidents within a space of two weeks. On February 14, 2019, members of the vigilante group attacked Wells Chifunda who is a court reporter for Prime TV. Six days prior to the above incident, the supporters of the party on February 8, 2019, physically assaulted and confiscated a laptop belonging to Lyold Kapusa, a reporter for Prime TV while another reporter, Kazela Habwanda of the TV station was also attacked by the group in a separate incident on February 5.

Some state actors also encouraged these attacks by openly antagonising the media outlet in their public pronouncements. On February 13, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dora Siliya, at a press briefing accused Prime TV of reporting the violent incidents that happened during Parliamentary By Elections in Sesheke, a town located in the western province of Zambia in a sensational manner.

The Deputy Media Director of the PF party, Antonio Mwanza, was also quoted by an online blog, TP News, on February 13 as saying that "Prime TV must be closed down… the IBA [the media regulator] has already been directed to revoke the licence…."

Following the hostile declarations by these powerful officials, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) on February 15 sent Prime TV a letter requesting the station's editorial policy and broadcast recordings of its political show, News Bulletin and Oxygen of Democracy Programme. The request followed a complaint by the Secretary General of the PF party who accused Prime TV of biased and unethical reportage in the said political news bulletin.

Also, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Jean Kapata, a senior political party official of the PF party, threatened to cause an attack on Prime TV. Kapata was quoted saying "to Prime TV, we are not warning you we are telling you that if you continue this type of reports, disparaging the government day in day out, these women that you are seeing here shall come and close down your studio."

The IBA again on February 28 summoned the management of Prime TV and demanded that the station renders an apology to the Secretary General of the PF party within 14 days for alleged biased reporting on the party.

Richard Mulonga, Founder of Bloggers of Zambia, indicated that the decision by the ruling party to ban Prime TV from covering all its activities will deny the station's viewers access to updates with regards to implementation of government policies.

"We are worried because the decision by the PF to ban Prime Television from reporting on the activities of the ruling PF party contravenes provisions of our national constitution and it is an affront to the right to freedom of expression and access to information of the people of Zambia."

AFEX is concerned about the concerted attacks on Prime TV by cadres and officials of the ruling PF party in Zambia. We also deplore the complicity of the media regulator, IBA, in these attacks that are obviously calculated to silence the critical media house.

Prime TV, like any other media outlet in Zambia, has a constitutionally guaranteed right to carry out its journalistic work freely and without interference from any quarters. The hostility to which Prime TV has been subjected is therefore an affront to article 20 of Zambia's republican constitution.

Zambia's governance system is hinged on the principle of democracy where freedom of expression is critical to citizens' participation in the country's governance processes. It is in line with this principle that AFEX is urging officials of the PF party to cease its intolerant attitude towards divergent views and opinions from critical media outlets in Zambia.

Additionally, we call upon the IBA to be a true regulator of the broadcasting media in Zambia and avoid being viewed as a tool that is used by the ruling class to settle scores with media houses whose publications they find uncomfortable.
We also urge the media to remain professional and committed to promoting the public's interest at all times.

Members of AFEX:

Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Association for Media Development in South Sudan
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building
Freedom of Expression Institute
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Institute for Media and Society
International Press Centre
Journaliste en danger
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
West African Journalists Association

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