- Zambia government, has called upon all broadcasters, both commercial and community, to desist from live phone-in broadcast programmes that involve members of public.
According a press release issued today by Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Windhoek, Zambian permanent secretary in ministry of information and broadcasting wrote in a letter dated 12 September 2008 that, "It has been observed that some radio stations have political programmes which provide unbalanced and, in some cases, unfair coverage to political parties during election campaigns."
Emmanuel N Nyirenda's letter goes on to say, "These programmes can be used by some parties to employ insults and accusations which cannot be rebutted. Ideally phone-in programmes need to be handled with use of special technology to facilitate screening of calls, which I believe most of you don't have."
It notes that in order to avoid unnecessary complaints, conflict and misunderstandings, Mr Nyirenda wished to advise all broadcasters to desist from such programmes and only carry political programmes in accordance with Zambian electoral commission's by-laws.
Letter further requested broadcasters to stick to their programming schedules as submitted to licensing authority.
This move has been dismissed by MISA-Zambia and other media freedom organisations as a violation of media and freedom of expression rights.
In a 22 September 2008 statement, MISA-Zambia chairperson Henry Kabwe said, "this move is a desperate attempt by government to muzzle media in run up to 30 October presidential by-election."
In his statement, Mr Kabwe added, "during times of elections, media have a duty to provide equal access to all contending political parties so that they sell their manifestos to potential electorate. Radio stations also have duty to facilitate interaction between aspiring political parties and citizenry and live phone-in programmes are their lifeblood as long as this is done in line with electoral code of conduct."
Mr Kabwe and MISA-Zambia have urged Nyirenda to rescind his decision to ban radio programmes.
In most rural areas out of reach of Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) signals, community radio stations are said to serve as important sources of information on electoral issues generally and aspiring candidates in particular.
Directive by Mr Nyirenda is undemocratic and violates media freedom and freedom of expression, stressed MISA-Zambia.
Media watchdog body has expressed concern over a trend by ministry of information to curtail media's freedom to provide information to electorate through live phone-in political programmes.
This, according to MISA-Zambia is not first time this has happened. Group states that during run-up to 28 September 2006 general elections, police visited Q-FM in an attempt to stop them from providing live coverage of election events.
It further shows that in 2007, Radio Explorer in Petauke was threatened with licence revocation for featuring an opposition leader.
MISA-Zambia believes that regulation of broadcasting should not be aimed at "policing" but being responsive to needs and growth of sector.
Organisation reminded community and commercial radio stations to adhere to electoral code of conduct, which require that they shall provide fair and balanced reporting of campaigns, policies, meetings, rallies and press conferences of all registered political parties during period of campaigning.
"Ministry of information should not averse with, but rather embrace latest technologies in broadcasting. Radio and television stations throughout world are now able to cover and report on events live as listeners and viewers hear or see them," organisation has said.
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