The alarm bells in Zambia are ringing louder and louder. Civil society groups, opposition politicians and even the churches have all chimed in recently - accusing President Sata of exhibiting increasingly authoritarian tendencies and the police of acting in an ever more partisan and repressive fashion.
And now the Media Institute for Southern Africa has added to the growing chorus of complaints by issuing a statement condemning several local authorities for threatening community media and radio stations - apparently in connection with critical coverage of District Commissioners.
The latest example involves Kasempa Community Radio, which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) through its partnership with the Panos Institute Southern Africa. Apparently, Victor Kayekesi - a DC from that region of north-western Zambia - threated to revoke the station's operating license after being quizzed recently about the shortage of mortuary attendants at Mukinge Mission Hospital, which is under his jurisdiction.
Kayekesi went as far as reporting the station manager, Nyamba Munyumbana, to the police, who then picked him up for questioning. Munyumbana was not charged. Indeed, even the nature of the complaint was never made clear. However, the commissioner's message was still pretty clear - if you broadcast critical reports, you'd better be prepared to face the consequences.
Both Isoka Community Radio in Northern Province and Radio Pasme in Eastern Province had previously reported similar stories of community media coming under fire from local authorities.
"We wish to remind District Commissioners that have threatened community media in the past or intend to do so in future that community media does not only exist to sing their praises but also to point out wrongs in their communities," said MISA-Zambia.
And the statement concluded with a plea for local authorities to respect media freedoms and to use community media to advance development in their regions. "We are urging all District Commissioners to embrace and protect the media and use it as source of information for them to plan and deliver development that will reduce poverty levels in their areas."