MISA Zambia says the year 2018 closed with no major shift in policies to enhance media freedoms as the Access to Information Bill had not been enacted into law, among two other key pieces of legislation.

In a press statement, MISA Zambia secretariat national director Austin Kayanda stated that media freedom remained vital for democracy and good governance as it offered checks and balances on those entrusted with power and management of public resources.

Commenting on the state of media freedoms in Zambia, Kayanda observed that another year had passed without any major shift in polices to enhance media freedoms and freedom of expression as the Access to Information Bill (ATI) had not been enacted into law, together with Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Acts yet to be fully realized.

He further stated that the IBA was supposed to be a regulator of all broadcast media in Zambia; ZNBC inclusive, but currently lacks adequate mechanisms to ensure that ZNBC plays its public service broadcaster role.

“This resulted in continued complaints from those holding divergent views from government of not being given sufficient space to contribute towards national debate, especially during the 19:00 hours main news on ZNBC,” Kayanda stated.

He further observed that the broadcast media, particularly radio, continued to face limited coverage area, while private TV stations were met with an unfair playing field as they were riding on several signal carriers to have a national coverage, while ZNBC had shares in TopStar, which is a signal carrier.

He added that journalists were subjected to acts of violence and censorship by some security wings and political party supporters during last year.

“Among such incidents included Michael Miyoba, who faced brutality as he headed home during the fight against cholera. Another incident occurred on 6th June, 2018, where cadres attacked journalists in Chilanga. A report published in the Mast Newspaper alleged that suspected UPND cadres attacked seven journalists from various media houses as they were heading to the totalling Centre of the Chilanga by-election,” he narrated.

He narrated that journalists from The Mast, News Diggers, Radio Phoenix and Prime Television were attacked about five minutes after midnight, forcing them to abandon their vehicle and scampering for safety at Munda Wanga Botanical Gardens and nearby shops.

On the morning of January 4, 2018, he continued, cadres stormed Feel Free FM Radio Station in Eastern Province with intentions of disrupting a paid-for radio programme featuring an official from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) political party Samuel Ligomo Phiri.

And Kayanda narrated that on April 14, 2018, Police in Mansa picked up Chishimba Kambwili from KFM radio where he was having a programme, while noting another sad development, which took place on March 19, 2018, at Radio Mano station where management were summoned by police in Kasama over a Facebook posting made by one of its Fan Club members.

“Threats of cyber regulation and statutory regulation of the media in terms of ethics continued throughout the year and this posed a danger to freedom of expression and right of citizens to access information through the media and via digital spaces,” Kayanda observed.

He added that MISA Zambia found the conviction and subsequent sentencing to 18 months for contempt of Court of Veteran Journalist Derrick Sinjela very saddening as it shook the media industry.

However, Kanyanda noted that a few positive developments occurred in that oppressive cyber laws were not enacted, nor did the government put in place statutory regulation of the media.

He stated that it was MISA Zambia’s hope that such regulation will not be passed in the country.

“However, there was good political will to dialogue over the named rights and even among security wings such as the Zambia Police. It is our hope that this will continue and will translate into more tangible actions to protect media freedom and freedom of expression, including the right of citizens to public information,” stated Kayanda, who further added that MISA Zambia’s was hopeful that 2019 this year will see the enactment of the ATI Bill, among others.