August 25, 2016

Zambia: RSF decries sudden closure of three broadcast media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the decision by Zambia’s Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to suspend the licences of three privately-owned broadcast media – Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Radio Itezhi Tezhi.

IBA employees and police raided Muvi TV’s studios on the evening of 22 August, evicted its personnel, seized its transmitter and sealed off access to the building. Komboni Radio and Radio Itezhi Tezhi then suffered the same fate.

The closures come amid a tense climate for journalists since President Edgar Lungu’s reelection on 11 August – a victory that has been disputed by the opposition in street protests.

At a news conference, IBA chairman Justin Mutale said that "before, during and after the 11 August 2016 elections" the tree media outlets had been "conducting themselves in an unprofessional manner" and had thereby posed a "risk to national peace and stability.” He did not elaborate.

The legal basis for the closures is an article in the IBA Amendment Act that empowers the IBA to withdraw a broadcasting licence if it is “necessary in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order.”

“The Zambian government clearly wanted to silence these independent media and used the cover of a supposedly independent authority,” RSF said. “Regardless of the criticisms that can be levelled against the three media outlets, shutting them down without warning is completely disproportionate. We call for their licences to be restored at once.”

Hellen Mwale, the head of the Media Institute of Southern African’s local branch, MISA-Zambia, described Muvi TV’s coverage of the presidential election as “fair and balanced” in comparison with other media.

Muvi TV’s lawyer, Milner Kakubo, announced that the TV station will appeal against the closure. A hearing with the IBA has already been set for 14 September.

Zambia is ranked 114th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.