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Minister threatens to revoke radio station's license following interview with opposition leader

(MISA/IFEX) - On 17 May 2007, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Mike Mlongoti threatened to revoke an operating license for Petauke Explorers, a local commercial radio station in Petauke district in the eastern province of Zambia, for featuring the president of one of the leading political parties in an on-air paid-for interview.

Mlongoti issued the threats after the station featured Michael Sata, a vocal president of the opposition Patriotic Front (PF), which gave the ruling Movement for Multi party Democracy (MMD) tight competition in the 28 September 2006 tripartite elections.

Various political parties were in Zambia's Eastern province campaigning for the Kapoche parliamentary seat that fell vacant following the nullification of an earlier victory by an MMD candidate, Nicholas Banda, by the Lusaka High court due to malpractices during the September 2006 tripartite elections. The by-election took place on 5 June 2007.

Sata had been featured on the station on 14 May from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (local time). Petauke Explorers radio station manager, Victor Msadabwe, told MISA Zambia in an email that his station had also featured the United National Independent Party (UNIP) and had extended the same offer to the ruling MMD but they did not respond to the invitation.

MISA Zambia chairperson Fr Frank Bwalya condemned the threats from Mlongoti on the radio station, describing them as "unwarranted". Bwalya said the threats by government to revoke the station's license clearly go against the culture of media pluralism.

However, on 28 May, Mlongoti denied the allegations on "Face the Media", a MISA Zambia-sponsored programme on 5FM Radio station, saying that he had only phoned the proprietor to inquire about the complaint logged with him by a concerned Petauke resident who complained that Sata was insulting during an interview on Petauke Explorers radio station.

Mlongoti said the proprietor regretted the development and informed him that he had since suspended the station manager. He said the government would not arbitrarily shut down radio stations violating the law, but separate managers that featured guests that were fond of insulting others in the name of freedom of speech.

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