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CAPSULE REPORT: MISA concerned over rise in media freedom violations during presidential by-election

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is a 7 November 2008 MISA-Zambia statement:

MISA-ZAMBIA STATEMENT ON THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE JUST ENDED PRESIDENTIAL BY ELECTION

"Concern over rise in media and freedom of expression violations and a call for speed up and conclusion of Media law reform Agenda".

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia expresses concern over the sharp rise in the number of media freedom violations recorded during the just ended presidential by-election of 30 October, 2008.

During the pre and immediate post election period, between September and November 2008, MISA-Zambia recorded and reported 16 media freedom violations compared to six (6) between January and August 2008.

The violations included physical harassment, threats of legal suits and dismissals, ejections from premises of political events such as rallies, threats to close down media institutions and orders to stop live broadcasts or publishing of certain types of stories either by order or through the courts of law.

One notable media freedom violation was when Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS), Mr. Emmanuel Nyirenda, on 12 September 2008, ordered all community and private radio stations to desist from broadcasting live phone-in programmes in order to avoid unnecessary complaints, conflicts and misunderstandings. In his view, phone-in programmes are used by some political parties to employ insults and accusations which cannot be rebutted.

Another notable instance was when Muvi TV and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) reporters and camerapersons were assaulted and pelted by ruling Movement for Multi party Democracy (MMD) cadres in Lusaka. The cadres had undertaken a solidarity match in favour of their presidential candidate, Mr. Rupiah Banda. The government-owned Zambia Daily Mail also had its reporters threatened with dismissal if they did not publish an article by Mr. Mbita Chitala, a former ambassador to Libya and a member of the MMD. This took place on Saturday 29 August, 2008.

As if this were not enough, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Mr. Mike Mulongoti also threatened to "sort out" the privately-owned The Post newspaper if they won the 30 October 2008 election.

On 27 September 2008, the Lusaka High Court ordered The Post newspaper to stop running alleged libellous articles against then MMD presidential candidate Mr. Rupiah Banda. We are saddened that during the election period, violations became rampant.

MISA-Zambia would like to state that during times of elections, the media have an important role to play by ensuring that the electorate has access to balanced information on contending political parties in order for them to make informed decisions. It is incumbent upon the media to cover elections in a free and fair manner in accordance with the Electoral Act of 2006 and the Electoral Code of Conduct.

We therefore condemn all forms of harassment of journalists as this hinders the free flow of information and affects the development of our democracy and good governance.

We, however commend the police for their timely action to save The Post reporter Mutuna Chanda from being beaten by some violent MMD cadres in Kitwe on 28th October, 2008.

We call upon the Zambia police, the government and leaders of political parties to take necessary steps to create understanding on the role of the media especially during elections. On our part, we will design programmes that will contribute to better relations among all stakeholders.

MISA-Zambia reiterates our appeal to the media to adhere to the Electoral Act and Electoral Code of Conduct during elections by providing fair, equitable and balanced coverage to all contesting candidates. MISA-Zambia makes this appeal in view of the polarisation between public and private media that characterised the just ended electoral period. The private print media appeared to have been skewed towards the opposition parties in its coverage while the state-owned media did the exact opposite by supporting the ruling MMD party. If unchecked, this trend can greatly endanger democracy as citizens consume information of a biased nature.

We however would like to commend the media for soldiering on despite so many challenges during this period.

MISA-Zambia also commends the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) for allowing journalists free access to the presidential election results at polling stations. This enabled the media access to timely information as opposed to the 2006 elections where election results could only be accessed from the elections management centre in Lusaka.

MISA-Zambia would like to congratulate the President-elect Mr. Rupiah Banda on his election and would like to urge him to carry on the promises which the late president, Dr Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, made to the media in advancing media law reforms.

We are gratified that President Banda regards the media as a tool that enhances freedom of expression, a cardinal component to democracy and the promotion of good governance.

We call upon him to ensure that the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Act Of 2002 and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (Amendment) Act of 2002 are implemented and that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill is enacted in the next Parliamentary sitting.

We are happy that President Banda pledged, during the state of the nation address on 9 September 2008 on ZNBC TV, to provide a conducive policy, legal and institutional framework for the development of a free media.

Henry Kabwe
Chairperson
7 November 2008

For further information on the restrictions imposed on "The Post" newspaper, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/97677

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