6 March 2019

Zambia: Churches Step Into the Fray Over Television Station Suspension

A number of Zambian churches on Wednesday criticised the authorities' "hypocritical" suspension of Prime Television over supposedly unbalanced coverage. Zambia's broadcast regulator this week suspended the television station's license following a complaint by the ruling Patriotic Front party.

"It is hypocritical to allow the suspension of a broadcasting license of a private media house when government-owned and controlled media outlets have miserably been unprofessional and unethical," said a strongly-worded joint statement from three Zambian church bodies.

The Council of Churches in Zambia, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops said the move by the Independent Broadcasting Authority was "undemocratic" and "embarrassing" to the government.

Prime Television was suspended over a report broadcast in February that the regulator said demonstrated "unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language".

The suspension was slammed by Prime Television's owner Gerald Shawa who told RFI that it was a "political move to silence us", saying that the station's reporting was "balanced and very factual".

Prime Television's news programme had in February carried a story about the police response to an opposition rally near Sesheke in Zambia's Western Province.

The ruling Patriotic Front party of President Edgar Lungu had complained about the report, describing it as "propaganda disguised as news" in a letter to Shawa.

Zambian churches said the suspension of Prime Television's license should be equally applied to state-run media such as the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation if the same rules were to be applied, according to a statement.

"It shows how dead the consciences of those in government have become," said the statement from the three ecumenical bodies.

Prime Television have appealed against the decision to suspend its license. In a letter seen by RFI dated 5 March, director Shawa said a suspension was not the only remedy to address concerns raised by the regulator.

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