Hakainde Hichilema’s election as president in August 2021 has improved the situation for the media after some difficult years. But the legislative framework still needs improving and Zambia’s economic problems continue to hold back journalistic independence.
The Zambian media landscape is fairly rich and pluralistic. The national broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), has three TV channels and three radio stations. The state owns and runs two daily newspapers, the Times of Zambia and the Daily Mail. There are 42 privately owned TV channels, including the influential Prime TV, Diamond TV and MUVI Television, and around 120 privately owned radio stations. The News Diggers, Mast and Daily Nation are the most influential newspapers. Finally, the government has a public relations service, the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS), which is tasked with giving the government a “good image”.
The former ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF), maintained a tight grip on both state and privately owned media, resulting in media outlets being shut down and outspoken journalists being fired. The situation has improved since the new government took over in August 2021 – interference has decreased and the media are operating more freely. In February 2022, a court ruled that the closure of Zambia’s most important independent newspaper, The Post, in June 2015 was illegal. This was an encouraging sign.
The access to information law, promised for years, has still not been enacted. The Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act that was adopted in March 2021, officially with the aim of protecting Zambian citizens from online abuse, is seen by many journalists and bloggers as a tool to muzzle the online press. Finally, the Defamation Act was often used under the previous government to arrest citizens and journalists on charges of defaming the president.
Zambia's economic difficulties have had an impact on the media. Underfunded media and underpaid journalists are more vulnerable to bribery, especially when investigating government officials or business executives who could try to buy their silence. The creation and survival of a newspaper is also made difficult by the cost of printing and paper.
Zambian society is conservative by nature, with strong Christian values. Such topics as abortion and contraception are not covered in the Catholic Church-owned National Mirror newspaper and other media outlets run by religious groups.
The safety of journalists has improved since the new government took over. No journalist was being detained or threatened by the authorities at the end of 2021. After many difficult years for Zambian journalists, it is unclear how long this respite will last. A newspaper editor spent nearly a year in prison for contempt of court before finally being released in late 2019. Several radio and TV stations had their licences withdrawn in 2019 and Prime TV, a commercial TV channel that was very critical of the government, ended up being closed for good in 2020 for unclear reasons.