UNIVERSITY of Zambia (UNZA) law lecturer Joseph Chirwa says the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) does not have the powers to regulate online content.

Last week, IBA backtracked on an earlier statement, saying it actually had powers to regulate online broadcasting.

But in an interview, Chirwa observed that the Authority had changed their position because they might be targeting a specific media.

“If you carefully read the IBA Act, it just simply says ‘broadcasting’. The only institution that has got anything to do with regulation of the internet is the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) under the Information and Technology Act. There is nowhere in the IBA Act where you will find that there is a regulation for online content. Unless they want to be generic and say ‘broadcasting means broadcasting be it internet’, then yes, IBA has authority to regulate online broadcasting but there is nowhere it states that IBA can regulate online content,” said Chirwa.

“I remember there was that minister who had some issues and a certain media published that the minister had committed suicide, the IBA Director General (Josephine Mapoma) said ‘we don’t have the powers to regulate online content’. Now I don’t know where they have got the powers from. Why did she say she didn’t have the powers that time? Where has she got the powers now? It simply means she doesn’t know what she is talking about. I am yet to be shown a section in the IBA Act that shows that they have the powers to regulate online content. It just shows that that change of position maybe in response to a certain media house because they are on record to say they have no powers.”

Two weeks ago, an online based TV station Spring TV ran a misleading story that former General Education Minister David Mabumba had committed suicide.

Thereafter, IBA issued a statement condemning the story but at the same time saying no action could be taken against the station because it was not a licensee of the authority as it had no mandate to regulate online broadcasting.

Following up on this statement, the Zambia Institute of Independent Media Alliance (ZIIMA) wrote to the IBA, asking it whether Prime TV was also free to start online broadcasting.

But in a statement, Friday, IBA board chairperson Mabel Mung’omba cautioned that even online broadcasters needed a license.

“IBA issued a press statement on July 30, 2020, regarding the status of Spring TV and the regulation pertaining to online broadcasting. The said statement was issued in the context that Spring TV is not a licensee of the IBA. Spring TV, like any other broadcasting service provider, is bound by section 19 (1) of the IBA (Amendment) Act No. 26 of 2010, which prohibits the operation of the provision of a broadcasting service in Zambia without a broadcasting licence. Accordingly, Section 2 of the IBA Act No. 17 of 2002 (as amended by Act No. 26 of 2010) defines broadcasting as ‘any form of un-directional electronic communication intended for reception by; the public, the sections of public or subscribers to any broadcasting services, whether conveyed by means of radio frequency spectrum or any electronic communications network or any combination thereof,” stated Mung’omba.