Alliance for Community Action executive director Laura Miti says comments by IBA Director General Josephine Mapoma suggesting that radio stations should air recorded programs to avoid attacks is an admission that the authority has failed to fulfil its duties.

And Miti says Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya’s statement in which she condemned attacks on the media was tame and meant to pacify the victims without calling out for any corrective measures.

In a statement, Wednesday, Miti stated that Mapoma’s remarks were an admission that the rule of law had broken down irretrievably and media houses should adapt to working under such lawlessness.

“The ACA also notes the implicit admission by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) that the rule of law had broken down irretrievably and therefore media houses should adapt to working under such lawlessness. A report carried by the News Diggers Newspaper dated 18th May 2020, IBA Director General Josephine Mapoma suggested that radio stations should adapt to such attacks by following news sources to their homes and airing the content pre-recorded. This proposal is an admission by the regulator of the broadcasting industry that they have failed or neglected to fulfil their duties. As licensees of the IBA, the radio stations are entitled to a minimum level of protection from their regulator,” Miti stated.

“We therefore find Mrs Mapoma’s attitude in this matter unacceptable and a glaring failure on her suitability for the position she occupies. We also doubt her suitability for the office she occupies because the same IBA Act in Section 7(3) states that, “(3) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed to the Board unless the person is committed to fairness, freedom of expression, openness and accountability and when viewed collectively the persons so appointed shall be representative of a broad cross section of the population of the Republic. If the IBA does not see the protection of the institutions over whom it superintends as its core business, they may soon find that they have no industry to regulate and supervise.”

Miti said Mapoma should have at least reminded citizens about proper channels of airing grievancies.

“If Mrs Mapoma is of the view that broadcasters must self-censor and hide in their source’s homes, we doubt her commitment to, or belief in, ‘fairness, freedom of expression, openness and accountability.’ According to the law providing for its existence, the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act no. 17 of 2002, the IBA is mandated in Section 5(a) and 5(i) of the Act to among other functions; “promote a pluralistic and diverse broadcasting industry” and “to receive, investigate and decide on complaints concerning broadcasting services including public broadcasting services.” We would therefore have expected the IBA Director General to at the very least remind or educate those who might have allegations of unethical conduct, bias or other complaints against the radio stations to seek redress through her office as provided for by the law. Further, she should have also been able to see that at the core of this issue is a refusal by one group to have a media that is pluralistic. In her response she should have addressed her mind to these and other core issues. Asking the media to run away from criminal elements is an ill-advised solution because, in any case, the content would still be broadcast through the same studios,” Miti stated.

And Miti stated that Siliya should have made a call to action against perpetrators of media attacks.

“The Alliance for Community Action wishes to condemn the continued physical and verbal harassment of journalists in Muchinga Province being perpetrated by suspected Patriotic Front (PF) members through forced entries into radio studios and destruction of broadcasting equipment. On Monday 18 May 2020, ISO FM Community radio station became the third broadcaster in less than one week to be attacked or censored in the name of the ruling party by people claiming to represent the interests of the PF. We note that the Minister responsible for Information and Broadcasting, Dora Siliya under whose duty and care the broadcast industry falls response to the attacks in Mpika FM Community Radio and Chinsali FM Radio was tame and lacked the necessary reprimand that the perpetrators deserved,” stated Miti.

“Most tellingly, the minister did not call for or suggest that any legal consequences should follow those whose actions bordered on criminal activity and abuse of media freedom and infringement of fellow citizens rights and freedoms. The Mpika District commissioner (ADD NAME) was also not identified or censored for his part in the harassment of Muchinga media houses. It is clear from the minister’s statement released to the media on Sunday 17 May 2020 that her statement was meant to pacify the victims without calling out for any corrective measures for their abusers. In such an environment, it is not difficult to see why those who have made it their business to abuse other citizens read such statements as badges of honour rather than reprimands.”

Miti called on the Zambia Police service to ensure that the attackers were taken before the courts of law as punitive consequences were the only effective deterrents for perpetrators of violence.