A possible new dawn for media freedom in Zambia

This statement was originally published on misa.org on 17 August 2021.

Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia’s President-elect, has hinted that his incoming administration will improve the freedom of expression and media environment.

Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia’s President-elect, has hinted that his incoming administration will improve the freedom of expression and media environment in his country after years of decline under outgoing President Edgar Lungu.

In an address on August 16, Hichilema said his incoming United People for National Development (UPND) was not there to shut down nor monitor the media.

“The UPND government is not there to shut down Prime Television … (Prime TV), sorry about what happened to you,” he said in a television address to the nation.

“(Shutting down media houses) will not happen under our administration, you will operate as a business, you know your obligations as a business. But no political hand will be there to shut down your business.”

Last year, Zambia’s broadcasting regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, cancelled Prime TV’s license “in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order”.

In 2016, the Zambia government forced the shutting down of The Post newspaper on allegations it had a huge unpaid tax bill, but critics argue that the reason it was closed was because it was critical of the government.

Hichilema also took to social media to declare he would not pay lip service to press freedom and was “taking practical steps to actualising it”.

A MISA delegation that observed the recently concluded Zambian elections noted that the Zambian media landscape had increasingly become polarised with opposition parties being shut out from the state broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).

Hichilema was quick to point out that he had in the past also been a victim of being closed out of ZNBC.

MISA position

MISA is encouraged by the position taken by Hichilema.

Media freedom and the right to free expression, which is critical to socio-economic development, had been on the decline in Zambia, and there is, therefore, urgent need to address this.

We urge President-elect Hichilema to follow through on this pledge and improve Zambia’s media freedom environment.

Further, MISA calls upon the President-elect to prioritise the enactment of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill into law. The ATI law is critical, especially on critical issues of national importance [so that they] are engaged in a transparent and accountable manner.

The Bill has been on the agenda for the past two decades.

MISA hopes ZNBC will also be transformed into a truly independent public broadcaster in line with the African Charter on Broadcasting, as opposed to being the mouthpiece of the ruling party that it had become.

In breaking with the past, there is also a need to reform government-owned publications such as the Daily Mail, to ensure they are representative of the diverse views and opinions of all Zambians to enable the citizens of that country to make informed decisions and choices on issues that concern their daily lives.

Herewith, for your further reading and reference, here, the MISA preliminary report on the Zambian elections.

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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