Many people have expressed shock that government has gone ahead to suspend the broadcasting licence for Lusaka-based Prime Television, but we saw it coming. In fact, we heard about plans to shut down Prime TV station about a year ago, and we remember sharing our fears with the proprietor of the media house.
So, what the Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary, Chanda Kasolo, said on Monday that they initially wanted to completely revoke the TV station licence is very true. But it is not for the “unprofessional” reasons that he gave. It is about the 2021 general elections and the PF government’s fear of what that television station is capable of doing, through its coverage of opposition political parties.
From our knowledge, gained from well-placed government sources, the long-conceived PF agenda to shut down Prime TV got State House’s blessings around April, 2018, when the station provided a platform for Mr Fresher Siwale and his opposition colleagues to bring President Lungu’s nationality into public discourse.
The accusations which aired on Prime TV that President Lungu is a Malawian and that his actual name is Jonathan Mataware did not sit well with State House. When that Dorcas woman was saying on Prime TV news that “Zambia needs an intelligent president, not a drunkard”, plans were already underway to sort out the media house.
Aware that it was a target, Prime TV did not cow down, but continued to provide a platform for political discourse to President Lungu’s rivals who are not covered by the State broadcaster, ZNBC. The owners of Prime TV explored media freedom without fear. Unfortunately, that determination to be a truly independent and fearless media house earned Prime TV the hate and disgust that PF Secretary General Davies Mwila demonstrated a month ago.
The PF learnt recently that Prime TV was acquiring outside broadcasting equipment that would enable it to televise live news events, including campaign activities, just like ZNBC does for the Patriotic Front. The fear for the PF has been that, if a private TV station with such resolved courage can have this nationwide ability to compete with ZNBC, then 2021 was not going to be plain sailing.
This is the environment under which private media is operating in Zambia. Prime TV is not alone in this struggle, what is happening to Prime TV today will happen to News Diggers! tomorrow, it will happen to any other media organization that gives the opposition a platform to provide checks and balances.
Today, PF’s plans to shut down Prime TV have been openly hatched for all citizens to see. The operation is in full swing and the end game is to kill it before it becomes too big. The ruling party doesn’t want Prime TV to be in operation by the time Zambians will be voting for new government leaders in 2021.
Like Mr Kasolo stated, their initial plan was to completely shut it down, but for now, they have settled for a suspension so that they see if this television station can develop enough fear to stop covering the opposition in the manner it has been doing. It’s an intimidation tactic that is aimed at assessing the ‘stubbornness’ of the Prime TV editorial team. If, after the one-month suspension, the station continues to cover the opposition with the same boldness, they will kill it completely!
That is the fate of Prime TV. But shamelessly, the Independent Broadcasting Authority wants to fool people into believing that the station was operating without professionally trained stuff. The IBA and its directors should be ashamed of themselves! How can someone who lives in Zambia accuse Prime TV of being a “biased media house” and call ZNBC professional? What kind of a joke is that?
Everyone in Zambia pays TV levy to ZNBC, including the opposition and its leaders, but does the national broadcaster give fair coverage to its taxpayers? Where is the Independent Broadcasting Authority to caution ZNBC when it is airing those State House insults against members of the opposition? Please, don’t take people for granted! The owners of Prime TV don’t get any money from government or the Patriotic Front for the ruling party to demand increased coverage for their activities.
Mr Kasolo even had the boldness to lie that the IBA consulted members of the public on what they should do to Prime TV. Come on, sir, people are not that foolish! Mr Davies Mwila cannot be referred to as the public. Zambians know that the IBA is an attack dog for the PF. That is why the institution was offering itself to sue Prime TV on behalf of Mr Mwila if the media house does not apologise to him. Apologise for what? It is the IBA which should be apologizing to Zambians!
And by the way, why is it even called the “Independent” Broadcasting Authority? What is the IBA independent from if the Permanent Secretary in the PF government is the overall boss there? We heard at the press briefing, Mr Kasolo was saying “we” would have completely withdrawn the licence for Prime TV…Who is he referring to as “we”? The government? Which government? It is the PF government where Mr Davies Mwila ranks third from the President. So Mr Kasolo was speaking on behalf of his boss, Mr Mwila. How, then, can we call the IBA independent? What is independent about their operations?
It is really sad for Zambia that every time the country is heading towards a campaign year, journalism becomes an endangered profession. This is a shame and the PF must not complain when its regime gets all the bad international headlines. Their dictatorial methods can no longer be hidden!