Zambia Reports (Lusaka)

14 June 2014

Zambia: Muhabi Writes to IBA On Media Freedoms

Dear Mr Nkandu,

We as the MMD have taken the time to peruse your recent public response to the harsh criticism you received when you wrote a letter to HOT FM Management, dated 29th May 2014, which was construed by many as an affront to press freedom. We applaud your efforts in setting the record straight, especially since as you rightly pointed out, there was a lot of mis-information and emotional reactions against you. Many people spoke and wrote against you based on incomplete information. Indeed, some of the accusations leveled against the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and yourself were in bad taste and without substantiation.

However, we wish to humbly point out that despite your gallant attempt to clarify things, you appear to have evaded many of the fundamental issues that were raised by HOT FM Management in their response to your letter. You have furthermore not addressed critical concerns that we raised in our public statement of solidarity with HOT FM of 6th June 2014. Our points of concern are as follows:

1. As stated by HOT FM Management, your letter to them did not specify what was "unethical" or "inappropriate" about the content of the radio show in question. We have studied the program in detail and find nothing wrong with a discussion being held on air to potentially dispel rumours about the republican president's health.

2. It is certainly "unethical" and "inappropriate" for the IBA to make vague statements and sanction a media house without specifics. If Zambians interpret this action as interference with the press on orders from unnamed people from "State House", how can one blame them?

3. The complainant was never named. Was it the president? Was it his press assistant? Was it the Chief Government Spokesperson? It is unacceptable for the IBA to hide behind "State House", fail to name who exactly was offended and then impose a punishment on HOT FM, especially since the president has gone on record to say that he does not mind people discussing his health. Do you presume to know better than the president? Are you suggesting he does not know what he is saying?

4. Whilst the law recognizes the privacy of individuals with respect to health matters, it does not take action on their behalf when that privacy is violated. For example, if the HIV status of a politician is disclosed without their consent, the government has no right to punish the originator of the information since it is a civil matter. It is up to the offended in their PERSONAL CAPACITY to write to the "offendee" and/or threaten to take legal action. The president has thus far not written to anyone over this PERSONAL matter. It seems a little strange for "State House" to lodge a complaint over a personal matter, in the same way that "State House" did not sue the Daily Nation newspaper on behalf of the president in his defamation case.

5. The "punishment" meted out on HOT FM was not only excessive, it was completely irrational. Where in the entire world, other than in a banana republic, is a station ordered to carry an apology for a non-existent offence for an entire week on every prime-time program, including the original program that began this circus? Can you Mr Nkandu honestly defend such an action with a straight face? Can you blame the Zambians when they conclude such an action has the hallmarks of an order given from "above"?

6. HOT FM management have also pointed out that the IBA did not give them a chance to defend themselves before they were sanctioned, as demanded by the rules of natural justice. Does the IBA see this as a normal course of action, considering that there have been reports by international organizations that show Zambia declining in press freedom?

7. In your most recent letter, you went to great lengths to describe journalism ethics. Yet you ignore the fact that the show hosted by Hope Chishala and Chinyota Msimuko does not require the rigorous journalism standards you are indirectly imposing on them. A Talk Show is not the same thing as a news report. There is no requirement or obligation to verify information and/or have "impeccable sources" when our people are freely discussing national matters.

8. You have misused the argument about how developed countries have a time delay on air. They do that to avoid possible litigation from people who may be defamed on air and remove the possibility of insults and emotional outbursts by callers. They do not do it because they are afraid of an overzealous Broadcasting Authority taking action against them on imaginary offences.

9. The limiting factor to freedom of speech is the threat of litigation, not arbitrary rules by the IBA that are prone to abuse. You yourself made this point in your letter and yet you have gone against it by taking action on behalf of someone who does not mind having his health discussed in public.

10. The health of the president of Zambia cannot be a private matter. He is the highest public figure whose daily decisions directly affect millions of people, the majority of whom voted him into office. If he wanted privacy, he should not have run for the presidency.

It is unfortunate that most of your last letter was spent defending yourself and the IBA instead of answering these issues we and others have raised. We hope and pray that either yourself or another IBA representative can directly address these questions and allay our fears that the IBA has become a tool of intimidation for the Patriotic Front government.

Thank you,

Muhabi Lungu

MMD NATIONAL SECRETARY

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