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Injunction on private media houses lifted

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 22 Sept. 2011 - As Zambia prepares for the announcement of election results, IPI calls on the future government to respect press freedom and implement long-standing legislation that would free the broadcasting regulator and public broadcaster from government oversight.

Zambians voted for the President and the National Assembly on Tuesday 20 September, in a vote that has so far been described as mostly peaceful - despite reports of rioting in Copperbelt province, where residents were angry over delayed results.

An exparte injunction imposed on three privately-owned media houses by the Lusaka High Court early this morning has now been lifted, Attorney General Abyudi Shonga confirmed to IPI, explaining that the media houses had agreed to abide by the electoral code of conduct.

Post Newspapers, Muvi Television, and Mobi International Limited were banned from "printing, publishing, running or carrying speculative stories on the tripartite election results held on 20th September, 2011 and subsequent dates and further from printing, or publishing or announcing election results before official results have been made by the electoral commission of Zambia," the Lusaka Times reported on its website.

No other media houses, including a number of private radio stations and the public broadcaster ZNBC, and two publicly-owned newspapers - the Times of Zambia and the Daily Mail - were affected by the injunction.

Attorney General Shonga told IPI that he had filed the injunction because he had heard reports that The Post, Muvi Television and Mobi International Limited were all publishing commentary and "letting out unconfirmed election results." He believes that such reports could have "fuelled violence" in the country, which had to be prevented.

But the deputy managing editor of The Post, Sam Mujuda, told IPI that the only results they had released were early results from the Electoral Commission of Zambia [ECZ]. The injunction was to prevent speculation, but Mujuda said, "What we are releasing is factual results. We don't speculate in our jobs."

A journalist from another affected media house, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of hurting negotiations with the Attorney General's office, also expressed confusion over the injunction. "We are working hand-in-hand with the ECZ," he said.

"While violence is a legitimate concern, if the Attorney General wished to place a ban on early reports and speculations about election results he should have extended it to the entire media, including public media, rather than targeting only three very influential private media houses," IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said. "However, we are glad that this situation was quickly resolved."

The International Press Institute calls on the incoming government, regardless of who wins, to uphold press freedom guarantees. This includes refraining from statutory regulation of the media, and implementing the ZNBC Act and IBA Act of 2002, which would make the public broadcaster independent of government oversight, and would put control over broadcast licensing in the hands of an independent body.

Currently, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Services oversees both regulation of the broadcasting sector and the public broadcaster, which is the most widespread television network in the country.

"Ensuring the strong protection of media freedom should be a priority for the new Zambian government," McKenzie said. "Zambians have a right to access a wide range of political, social and religious viewpoints in their newspapers, radio and television stations."

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