LAZ says PF and IBA acted illegally to close Prime TV

The Law Association of Zambia says the IBA acted illegally to close down Prime TV and says Prime TV must be reopened immediately

LAZ PRESS STATEMENT DATED 11TH APRIL 2020 ON THE CANCELLATION OF PRIME TELEVISION’S BROADCASTING LICENCE BY THE INDEPENDENT BROADCASTING AUTHORITY

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) is deeply saddened and gravely perturbed by the cancellation of Prime Television’s (Prime TV) broadcasting licence by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) on 9th April 2020. In the Press Release issued by the IBA on the said date, the IBA stated that the cancellation of the licence was done in “Public Interest” pursuant to section 29 (1) (j) and (k) of the Independent Broadcasting (Amendment) Act No. 26 of 2010 ( the “IBA Act”), which stipulates that the Board may cancel a broadcasting licence if, “the cancellation of the licence is necessary in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order” or “the Board considers it appropriate in the circumstances of the case to do so.” Although the IBA has discretionary powers to cancel any licence that it issues under the IBA Act, LAZ notes that in its Press Release, the IBA did not go further to explain to the public, in whose interest the decision was professedly taken, the basis of the decision, the security and peace concerns as well as other circumstances in issue and whether the IBA itself had complied with the entire provisions of section 29 of the IBA Act, which stipulates in section 29 (2) that:
Where a broadcasting licensee does not comply with this Act or with the conditions of the broadcasting licence, the Authority shall notify the broadcasting licensee of the measures that the broadcasting licensee should undertake, within a specified period to comply with the conditions of this Act or the broadcasting license.

Furthermore, section 29 (3) of the Act stipulates that:

The Authority shall, where a broadcasting licensee fails to comply with a notice issued under subsection (2), within a specified period of time suspend the broadcasting licence for a specified period of time or cancel the broadcasting licence.

More importantly, perhaps, section 29 (7) of the IBA Act stipulates in mandatory terms that:

The Board shall, before cancelling or suspending a broadcasting licence under this section, give the broadcasting licensee an opportunity to be heard.

In view of the above provisions of the IBA Act and the contents of the Press Release issued by the IBA on 9th April 2020, LAZ is of the view, and did establish from Prime TV, that the IBA never issued any notice or warning to Prime TV, as required by Section 29 (2) of the IBA Act and that the IBA did not go further to avail Prime TV an opportunity to be heard. Accordingly, LAZ is of the view that the conduct of the IBA in cancelling the licence for Prime TV was done prematurely and contrary to the clear provisions of the law.

LAZ is also of the view that the action and conduct of the IBA is an affront to the freedom of the media and an assault on the democratic right of freedom of expression. With the recent decision by the Government to stop all government officers from dealing with Prime TV owing to Prime TV’s reported decision not to allow the Government to air any COVID-19 announcements on Prime TV and the removal of Prime TV from the TopStar platform, the timing of the cancellation of Prime TV’s licence raises a lot of speculation and reasonable doubts about the independence and professionalism of the IBA in this matter. This is a serious concern for the future of the private media in Zambia especially as the nation heads towards the 2021 Presidential and General Elections.

LAZ further adds that the decision and action of the IBA is untimely and extremely unfortunate especially when the nation is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic which needs to be combatted through concerted efforts of both the private and public media.

LAZ is also seriously concerned by the reported commandeering of the Prime TV premises and offices by Zambia Police officers as reported by MUVI TV on 9th April 2020. LAZ is alarmed by the fact that though the IBA did not order Prime TV to close, the Zambia Police officers appear to have taken control of private premises of a private television station without a court order and without any evidence of any criminal activities perpetrated by Prime TV officers or employees following the cancellation of its licence. The cancellation of Prime TV’s licence is a civil matter and should not be turned into a criminal case without adherence to the dictates of the relevant law.

LAZ also condemns any heavy-handedness and blatant breach of the law by any authority or law enforcement agency especially that it appears that the actions against Prime TV are premised on mere differences in opinions. It is LAZ’s firm position that in a democratic society such as ours, it is not necessary for everyone to sing and dance to one song. Diversity in opinions does not weaken but rather strengthens us and must be encouraged and espoused if we are to grow even more as a society.

LAZ therefore calls on the IBA to immediately rescind its illegal decision to cancel the licence for Prime TV and to allow Prime TV to start operating in accordance with the law. To this effect, LAZ demands that both the IBA and Zambia Police should allow Prime TV’s proprietors, officers and staff to access and control Prime TV’s premises with immediate effect.

ISSUED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE LAW ASSOCIATION OF ZAMBIA
11th April 2020

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