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Government threatens to revoke radio stations' operating licences

(MISA/IFEX) - 20 April 2011 - The government has warned that it will revoke operating licenses of all radio stations airing political campaign songs before the date for this year's tripartite elections is announced, the "Daily Mail" reports. However, the opposition Patriotic Front (PF) party has hit back by saying that the electoral code of conduct does not prohibit the media from airing political campaign songs before the elections.

The Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Ronnie Shikapwasha, said in Lusaka on 8 April 2011 that the government would revoke operating licenses to some radio stations airing political campaign messages because the practice is against the electoral code of conduct, as the campaigns have not started yet.

"Both public and private radio stations are bound by the provisions of the code not to air campaign materials before the President announces the election date," Lieutenant General Shikapwasha, who is also chief government spokesperson, said. He was reacting to the opposition Patriotic Front campaign song aired by Radio Phoenix on 8 April at the end of a paid political programme which featured PF party leader Michael Sata. He also said that he had heard that there was a community radio station in Northern Province which was airing political adverts.

PF Kabwata constituency member of parliament, Given Lubinda, has expressed surprise at the Minister of Information's statement, describing him as ignorant of the law and deceitful.

Lubinda said that there was no section in the electoral code of conduct suggesting that radio stations and the media in general are stopped from airing campaign songs before the election date is announced. He said that the electoral code of conduct only becomes effective after the date of elections has been announced and not before that. Lubinda questioned why the minister has paid a deaf ear to Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) campaign messages airing on the state controlled national broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation ZNBC, and other selected private radio stations.

Earlier in 2011, the ruling party was accused of using the ZNBC as political campaign propaganda machinery, an accusation which the MMD government has vehemently denied. In response, ZNBC management said that the partisan political adverts are sponsored and paid for by the MMD. Meanwhile two Northern Province-based radio stations have denied allegations of airing political adverts.

In separate interviews with MISA-Zambia, ISO FM and Radio Mano board chairpersons, Chengela Sinkamba and Martin Chanda, said that the allegations about airing political campaign adverts are unfounded.

MISA-Zambia chairperson Daniel Sikazwe has described the threat to revoke operating licenses of radio stations as severe and unfortunate. Sikazwe accused MMD of airing the same material on the state-owned and controlled media, and challenged the government to first abide by the code of conduct to avoid setting a precedent for the opposition political parties.

"The ruling MMD should also abide by the electoral code of conduct. We have seen and heard political advertisements being aired on ZNBC radio and television. This actually is a clear indication that the MMD sets the precedent that is followed by the opposition political parties," said Sikazwe.

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