Lusaka, 1st September 2015
Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) is saddened to learn that Central Province Minister, Davies Chisopa decided to award himself powers to disturb the operations of Mkushi Community Radio and dissolve a dully elected Mkushi Community Radio Board.
Mkushi Community Radio is owned by the community and was set up using funds from UNESCO for the people of Mkushi. The radio station’s board is elected by community members during an elective Annual General Meeting, and only the community members through legal structures have the power to dissolve the board.
This illegal dissolution of the board by the Central Province Minister is coming less than a week after the PF District Committee and its cadres stormed the radio stations and disturbed its operations last Tuesday. This act of media harassment is coming at a time when the global world is still shocked at the unfriendly media operational environment in Africa as exemplified by the brutal murder of Mozambican journalist Paulo Machava, publisher of the online Diario de Noticias last Friday, the jailing of two journalists by the Egyptian government for merely being journalists in Egypt last week and the brutal murder of South Sudan journalist Peter Julias Moi two weeks ago.
PSAf 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.
PSAf is also calling on is also calling upon government regulatory bodies like the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the Registrar Of Societies who would have cracked the whip had it been Mkushi Radio in the wrong to intervene and educate political stakeholders like the PF leadership of Mkushi and Provincial Minister on the operations of community radio stations and private societies. The IBA who are responsible for regulating the broadcasting industry in Zambia should also been seen to be protecting the media’s right to broadcast without interference and promoting pluralistic media in Zambia. IBA should not be seen to be working only when the community media flout broadcast regulations but should be seen to defend the operations of the media from overzealous public officials, especially those that abuse their offices with impunity against community radio just because they are far away from their controlling officers in Lusaka.
The actions by the provincial minister and the PF strictures in Mkushi are an infringement of the right of the community members, and muzzles efforts to promote a pluralistic and diverse broadcasting industry in the country. PSAf feels if the Provincial Minister, Mr. Chisopa had any issues with the Mkushi Radio, he should have followed the IBA laid down procedures of complaining and or approached Mkushi Radio management through their clearly defined channels for handling such complaints.
PSAf is mindful that as Zambia heads towards the 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. While we respect the rights of political parties and their members to freely express themselves on community radio stations, we are concerned about this growing trend where some political actors view community radio stations as extensions of their structures and mouthpieces of their PR wings.
Community media offer alternative channels for community-interest stories and news and are at the centre of promoting community development through various community-led radio participation initiatives. Community radio have become radio platforms upon 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.
For example through the set-up of radio listening clubs, community radio has extended its reach and influence to various communities who now not only control what kind of radio programmes and news items are broadcast by the community radio, but also contribute programme ideas and news items from their villages for the radio stations to broadcast. Communities through their local radio stations are now broadcasting programmes they want and are freely sharing information on how to better develop their areas.
PSAf therefore hopes that Zambia will continue to being a leading example in democracy and embrace media freedom by protection the rights of its citizens and the media to operate freely.
Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa