The Independent Broadcasting Authority’s closure of a television and radio stations is not only harsh but also against the spirit of promoting media freedom in Zambia, says Gregory Chifire.
And Chifire says the license fees of K20,000 per year for commercial radio stations is too high for a country with no money.
Meanwhile, Chifire has charged that the IBA only favours ZNBC to the exclusion of others because it has failed to chastise the station for its bias over the years.
On Friday, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) revoked the license of a Copperbelt television station in Ndola and suspended some radio stations countrywide due to the institutions’ failure to pay license fees.
The suspensions came a day after the world commemorated Press Freedom Day on May 3.
Among those whose licences had been suspended for two weeks include: COMMET and Pan African radios of Lusaka; Jive FM (Ndola); Ngoma FM (Luanshya); Mwinilunga radio (Mwinilunga); Valley FM (Nyimba); Luanginga Radio (Kalabo); Kwenje Radio (Chama); Vision Macha (Macha); Young Generation (Choma) and Ama Radio (Lusaka).
But in an interview with News Diggers! Chifire, who is Southern Africa Network Against Corruption (SANAC) executive director, observed that the closure of the TV and radio stations by IBA was not only harsh but also against the spirit of promoting media freedom.
“Since inception, IBA has always worked hard to look for faults in private television and radio stations with the view to close them as opposed to creating a conducive environment for such establishments to thrive. The closure of the TV and radio stations for non-payment of license fees is too harsh and goes against the spirit of promoting media freedom. At the time when the world is celebrating World Press Freedom Day, IBA is acting otherwise. It is reversing the gains that the television and broadcasting industry has gained over the years,” Chifire said.
And he noted that the annual license fees for commercial radio stations were way too high for radio stations that were barely surviving.
“The fees are too high for radio stations to pay because at the moment they are barely surviving, barely meeting their operational costs. The income for radio and television stations is mostly from advertising but business has been bad. Generally, there is no money in the country. Business houses are not advertising their goods and services so this has in-turn affected the radio stations,” Chifire said.
He said the IBA was not created to be a business venture and to make profits out of the fees they charge radio and TV stations.
“When IBA was created, it was not created to be a business venture, to raise money, to make profits out of the fees they charge radio and TV stations. It is an authority that was created to create a conducive environment for the broadcasters. So, they should rethink their approach and their operational plan or else they will be irrelevant and will act as a factor that is inhibiting the growth of broadcasting in Zambia,” Chifire said, adding that the IBA should have agreed on the payment plan with the erring stations as opposed to suspending them.
He further charged that in its current form, the authority only favoured state-owned ZNBC to the exclusion of others.
“Couldn’t it have been easy for the IBA to agree on the payment plan with the erring stations as opposed to closing them? The effects for that decision are far-reaching. The general public is denied news and entertainment, and not to talk about the loss of employment by the practitioners. At a time like this, IBA should consider helping TV and radio stations that are struggling so as to promote the growth of the industry. In the current form, the IBA only favours state-owned ZNBC to the exclusion of the others. Honestly speaking, IBA has failed to chastise ZNBC for the bias that they have exhibited over the years,” Chifire observed.
“The IBA board has failed to bring about progressive resolutions and decisions that will serve broadcasters better. IBA is not supposed to be a tool for punishing private broadcasters, but an all-embracing umbrella to who the broadcasters can run to in times of trials and distress. IBA must not be oppressive; [it] was not created to champion a sectarian role, but to champion a good cause for all broadcasters so as to benefit the general citizenry that is in dire need of information from wide and divergent sources.”
He hoped that IBA would never be used as a tool to stifle private media’s growth and development.
“Our sincere hope and prayer is that the IBA will never be used as a tool to stifle private media growth because private media plays a pivotal role in the democratic dispensation as it offers a platform for dissent, which the public broadcaster has lamentably failed to [do]. The onus is upon the authority to redeem itself from the negative perception that has been created in the minds of the citizens about its operations. The authority must at all material times operate and be seen to operate in an impartial manner,” said Chifire.