, 22 May, 2020 / 4:45 AM
Leaders representing various Church groupings in Zambia have, in a collective statement, “strongly condemned” the violation of press freedom in their country following multiple incidents when those at the helm of the main opposition party have been barred from scheduled radio programs or their programs disrupted midway.
In their May 19 statement, the Church leaders under their umbrella body, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), make particular reference to three incidents over the past days.
Between May 13 and May 18, the president of Zambia’s main opposition party, United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainde Hichilema, was barred from featuring on different radios located in Mpika and Chinsali, North of the Southern Africa country.
“CCMG condemns in the strongest terms the actions of Mpika District Commissioner in instructing Mpika FM not to host a paid for program featuring the United Party for National Development (UPND) President, on 13 May 2020,” CCMG representatives say.
The second and third incidents, the leadership of CCMG highlight, involved “the unauthorized entry of suspected PF cadres into Muchinga Radio studios in Chinsali on 15 May 2020 to disrupt yet another paid for program featuring UPND President via telephone; and the attack on Isoka FM on May 18 during an interview with the UPND President.”
“The Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) is greatly concerned with the continued intimidation and harassment of the media,” the church leaders state in their collective message, adding that “the recent happenings (are) aimed at limiting press freedom, censoring and intimidating the media.”
“These acts of intimidation represent a restriction of press freedom, which is a fundamental component of our democracy,” the leaders state in their message signed by the Chairperson of the CCMG Steering Committee, Fr. Cleophas Lungu who is the Secretary General of the Lusaka-based Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB).
“The world over, a free press plays an important role in a democratic society, allowing the dissemination of information and a space for the exchange of opinions and ideas,” the church leaders add.
Responding to the incidents the church leaders highlighted, Zambia’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya has been quoted as saying, “The Government is deeply disturbed by reports of interference of programming of some radio stations in Mpika and Chinsali districts where some broadcast programs have reportedly been disrupted and some unlawful directives ordered.”
In her statement, the Minister quoted the country's Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, which bars any person “to procure other people to storm a radio station and disrupt a broadcast program or order a broadcast station to broadcast in a certain manner.”
While the church leaders acknowledge the statement by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services in their collective message, they however call on the Independent Broadcasting Authority to “play its role in providing protection to the media through existing statutes to ensure that media houses operate independently.”
They call on law enforcement agencies “to investigate the incidents in Chinsali and Isoka and ensure that the individuals involved are brought to book” and urged “government officials to refrain from using their office to intimidate the media, and those who do be disciplined according to the appropriate procedures.”
“In these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have a duty to uphold and protect the freedom of the press so that free information sharing is guaranteed,” CCMG representatives state.
“The challenges of COVID-19 should not be used to limit the freedom of press, or the exchange of ideas and opinions,” they add.
The leaders further cite the United Nations Secretary General during the World Press Freedom Day saying, “Meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic depends on media freedom and independent reporting.”
Founded in 2015 as an alliance of four Christian organizations, CCMG is an independent and nonpartisan election observer in the country comprising four Christian forums: ZCCB, Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR).
In their May 19 statement, the leaders look ahead to next year saying, “As we prepare for 2021 elections, the media must remain free as part of a democratic, transparent and credible electoral process.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa