THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Zambia has urged the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to expedite the process of liquidating arrears owed media houses in order to cushion their financial challenges.

And MISA noted that the removal of Prime Television from Topstar has not only affected citizens’ right to access information but sent a wrong message to the public that government does not accommodate divergent views.

In a statement, Monday, MISA Zambia chairperson Hellen Mwale commended ECZ for committing to liquidate the arrears it owed to media houses for disseminating information on the electoral process for the 2016 general elections.

However, Mwale noted that the pledge by ECZ would not be credible if there was no proper action from the Commission to honour this pledge.

“Yesterday (Sunday), Chief Electoral Officer Kryticous Nshindano pledged that his Commission will draw up a payment plan to ensure that all arrears are paid to the media institutions. This follows a meeting he had with Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary, Amos Malupenga, who presented the documents on behalf of the media institutions that provided various media services to the Commission. It was agreed in the meeting that the Commission will conduct reconciliation on all the copies of invoices that were submitted and consult with the various media institutions, where necessary. It is must be noted that these arrears have been long overdue since 2016 elections and the country is going into another general election in just over a year and the commission has not yet liquidated the arrears,” Mwale stated.

Mwale stated that the monies owed to media institutions could help them a great deal to alleviate the suffering of most media houses in Zambia if they were paid on time.

“MISA Zambia is cognizant to the fact that in any election be it local or national, scheduled or by-election, the media carries the important responsibility of informing and educating citizens on various aspects of the elections, such as the actors, issues and processes involved. The media also plays the role of a watchdog that investigates and brings to light issues of concern to the citizens, and how different actors are addressing or ignoring them. However, financial constraints and other challenges are making it increasingly difficult for the media, especially community media, to effectively carry out this responsibility. Instead of setting the agenda and stimulating engagement on a particular election, they just flow with the wind, as their financial and other challenges make it almost impossible to do things differently,” Mwale stated.

“Every stakeholder including the ECZ must be alert to the financial and other challenges that media houses, have to grapple with in their quest to promote citizens’ participation in democratic processes, such as elections. MISA Zambia is therefore appealing to the ECZ to expedite the process of paying media houses to cushion their financial challenges. Let me [also] urge the journalists in Zambia to always adhere to the ethics of the profession by reporting objectively and constructively as they are the mirror of society.”

Meanwhile, Mwale stated that MISA found it unfair and unacceptable that Topstar had removed Prime TV from its platform.

“The removal of Prime TV from Topstar is not only going to affect citizens right to access information but also sends a wrong message to the citizens that the government does not accommodate divergent views. MISA is aware of the attempts made by Prime TV proprietor Gerald Shawa to mend his Station’s relationship with the government in an amicable way. He has written to the government and even apologised publicly for his remarks. We therefore call on the government to mend its relationship with Prime TV as they are an equal partner in development and also in raising awareness especially in times as this when Zambia and the world are grappling with the Covid-19 Pandemic. We also call upon TopStar to rescind its decision and provide its services to Prime TV,” stated Mwale.