Zambia: CPJ demands reinstatement of broadcasting licences to Zambian media stations

Lusaka, Zambia (PANA) – The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Zambian regulators to immediately reinstate the broadcasting licences of three media outlets it revoked this week.

It has also demanded that police should drop all charges against four media workers arrested when police sealed the offices of the country's largest privately owned television station.

Zambia's Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) on 22 August suspended the licences of Muvi TV, the country's largest privately-owned television station, as well as privately-owned community radio stations Komboni Radio in Lusaka and Radio Itezhi Tezhi stationed in Southern Province.

BA alleged that the three were guilty of professional misconduct and "posed a risk to national peace and stability" before and after the 11 August general election.  

According to Milner Katolo, a lawyer for Muvi TV and Komboni Radio, police arrested four Muvi TV workers. They were arrested after the police and officials from the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) took control of the station's office in Lusaka on 22 August.

They were charged with "criminal trespassing," Katolo told CPJ. Costa Mwansa, managing editor at Muvi TV, disclosed that John Nyendwa, Mubanga Katyeka, Joe Musakanya, and William Mwenge, were arrested but later released and are facing trespassing charges.

"Canceling the licences of some of Zambia's leading broadcasters on such vague grounds as preserving 'national peace' smacks of censorship," CPJ Africa Programme Coordinator Angela Quintal said in a statement.

"The arrest of four media workers on charges of trespassing on their own premises would be laughable were it not so outrageous. We call on Zambian regulators to return Muvi TV, Komboni Radio, and Radio Itezhi Tezhi to the airwaves immediately, and drop the spurious charges against John Nyendwa, Mubanga Katyeka, Joe Musakanya, and William Mwenge."

Katolo, the lawyer, told CPJ that the IBA gave his clients no justification for suspending their licences. "We do not have sufficient particulars to respond to a charge of unprofessional conduct," he said.

The lawyer said the IBA Amendment Act, which details the regulator's procedures, requires the IBA to give broadcasters notice of a complaint and to give them an opportunity to respond before suspending their licences. He said the IBA had told him that the broadcasters would be able to present their case on 14 September.

IBA director-general Josephine Mapoma rejected allegations that the IBA's actions were politically motivated or that it had acted unlawfully.

She told CPJ that she could not disclose details of the violations until the broadcasters appeared before the IBA, as she did not want to be seen to prejudge the issue. Given the gravity of the alleged infractions, she said, the IBA had invoked Section 29(1) (j) of the IBA Amendment Act which allowed it to suspend licences pending a hearing.

CPJ noted that the decision to shut the three broadcasters follows the June closure of the independent Zambian leading newspaper, The Post, ostensibly because of a tax dispute, a move CPJ considers a politically motivated attempt to silence criticism ahead of the election, which was tainted by violence and allegations of voter intimidation.

The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) has challenged the outcome of the 11 August presidential election in the Constitution Court, alleging among other things that the country's electoral commission had manipulated the results.

The court challenge has delayed the inauguration of president-elect Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party who was re-elected after winning 50.4 per cent of the vote against UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema's 47.6 per cent.
-0- PANA MM/MA 25Aug2016

25 august 2016 09:07:46

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