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Government calls on broadcasters to end live phone-in programmes

(MISA/IFEX) - The Zambia government, through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, has written a letter to all broadcasters, both commercial and community, calling upon them to desist from live phone-in broadcast programmes that involve members of the public.

In a letter dated 12 September 2008 the ministry's Permanent Secretary, Emmanuel N Nyirenda, wrote, "It has been observed that some radio stations have political programmes which provide unbalanced and, in some cases, unfair coverage to political parties during election campaigns."

The letter goes on to say, "These programmes can be used by some parties to employ insults and accusations which cannot be rebutted. . . Ideally phone-in programmes need to be handled with the use of special technology to facilitate the screening of calls, which I believe most of you don't have."

"In order to avoid unnecessary complaints, conflict and misunderstandings, I wish to advise that you desist from such programmes and only carry political programmes in accordance with the electoral commission of Zambia regulations which demand that you give balanced coverage. Further I request that you stick to your programming schedules as submitted to the licensing authority," said Nyirenda.

This move has been dismissed by MISA-Zambia and other media freedom organisations as a violation of media and freedom of expression rights. In a 22 September 2008 statement, MISA-Zambia Chairperson Henry Kabwe said, "this move is a desperate attempt by the government to muzzle the media in the run up to the 30 October presidential by-election."

Kabwe added, "during times of elections, the media have a duty to provide equal access to all contending political parties so that they sell their manifestos to the potential electorate. Radio stations also have the duty to facilitate interaction between aspiring political parties and the citizenry and live phone-in programmes are their lifeblood as long as this is done in line with the Electoral Code of Conduct."

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