Lusaka, 11th March, 2016
Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has noted with grave concern the growing trend in Zambia by government authorities and political figures to invade community radio stations spaces and disrupt radio activities.
Within the past three months, operations at community radio stations in Chipata, Petauke, Kasama, Mpika, Mkushi, Siavonga among others have been disturbed by non-media government officials and stopped from running radio broadcasts or radio interviews.
Just this week, police officers in Isoka stopped a paid for live political discussion programme on Isoka FM featuring Democratic Front President Miles Sampa, who is also the leader of the Orange Alliance.
Overzealous and ill formed provincial and district administration officers in partnership with the local police have on many occasions crossed their legal boundary and disturbed community radio operations in their districts.
This trend needs to be stopped. Community radio stations like any other registered media businesses and entities are mandated by law to perform their professional duties unhindered and within media space as enshrined in the Zambian constitution.
Community radio stations were set up by the community to provide information and discussion platforms for the community to freely receive and share information on matters of community interest. Community radio stations by their nature are owned and run by the community through the appointed board members and the radio station management.
Community media offer alternative channels for community-interest content, and promote community development through community-led radio participation initiatives. Community radio stations have become platforms through which rural local communities freely participate in community discussions on rural development, food security and good governance of their areas. Community radio stations have rejuvenated the use of local languages in the communities and helped promote culture and cultural norms.
PSAf is mindful that as Zambia heads towards the August 2016 general elections there will be jostling for the control and management of community media space by competing political operatives and their cadres in favour of their political interests. However, we call on Zambians with divergent views need to respect the rights of political parties and their members to freely express themselves on community radio stations. Community radio stations should not be viewed as extensions of government structures and public relations wings required to broadcast information only in favour of the government and the ruling party.
In an election, the community radio platform becomes an active meeting place for all participating parties. It is therefore imperative that these radio stations are not hindered from providing that much needed media dialogue platform.
PSAf therefore calls on the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the Zambia Police to provide security to community radio stations to enable them to operate freely and run their programmes without any disturbances.
We also implore the Government, through relevant offices or structures to move beyond taking note of these, media freedom infringements to put in place and enforcing disciplinary measures against the overzealous district government officials abusing their government positions in society by stepping on the rights of the community media to exist and function during this electoral period.
PSAf also calls on the Zambian government to allow for the effective operations of community media, especially radio, through the creation of an enabling environment for the media’s operations. The Zambian government should go further to legally protect the work of the journalists by developing national policy and legal framework that guarantees the operations of the media as the fourth estate and protects the media, especially community media, from harassment and undue interference from any quarters.
Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)
Email: email@example.com, Tel: +260978778148/9.