Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Zambian broadcast media regulator's decision to suspend the licence of Zambia's leading commercial TV channel for a month and urges the authorities not to censor media outlets critical of the government amid by-elections.
The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) announced on 4 March that it was closing Prime TV, one of Zambia's most popular and outspoken TV channels, for 30 days for "unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence and use of derogatory language."
The announcement came just days after President Edgar Lungu's Patriotic Front party filed a complaint accusing Prime TV of being biased and broadcasting "propaganda disguised as news."
Local media quoted a Patriotic Front press official as saying the IBA had been "instructed" to revoke Prime TV's licence. The ruling party accuses the TV channel of contributing to its defeat by an opposition candidate in a parliamentary by-election in the west of the country last month.
"By suspending a critical media outlet in response to complaints by ruling party officials, Zambia's media regulator has yet again let itself be seen as a tool of the government, said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk.This gross licence suspension deprives many Zambians of an important TV channel and constitutes a violation of the media pluralism that is essential for credible elections. The Zambian authorities must stop penalizing the media and must terminate this arbitrary suspension at once."
As RSF reported at the time, the IBA arbitrarily suspended the licences of three privately-owned broadcast media shortly after the 2016 presidential election on the grounds that their coverage posed a "risk to national peace and stability."
Zambia is ranked 113th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.