A recent short paper on the state of local / community radio stations in Zambia. A useful coverage of the growth in radio stations and the various opportunities / challenges they are facing. The paper does not delve into the counter-arguments for regulation, but it is still useful as a general tour of the main issues. Excerpt :
The reaction of government to the arrival of modern community mass media has been somewhat mixed. Reference has already been made to the bold move by government to liberalise the airwaves after the 1991 elections. The mass media sector also had positive encouragement whenever licenses have been granted, and spectrum space created for the establishment of new community media. The year 2002 saw momentous leaps with the enactment by parliament of the Independent Broadcast Authority (IBA) Act, which introduced the idea of self-management for the independent media sector and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Amendment Act, which took away the power of the Minister of Information to control the broadcast industry, and ZNBC. ZNBC, at least officially, became a public corporation. 2008 also saw another positive development: the introduction of government support for the media fund, which the media fraternity had for long lobbied.
However, sometimes there have been some negative relations also. One problem has been the use of extra-legal tactics to muzzle the press. In January 2001, the dismissal by the government District Administrator (DA) of the 15 board members of Radio Chikaya, an independent community broadcaster, was clearly in breach of the country’s constitution. The DA does not have any such powers as he claimed to have, and gladly, the decision was later reversed.
Occasionally, even in the last two years or so before the workshop, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services has warned community media not to air political broadcasts, which he/ she has argued is contrary to license terms for community media. This has left people wondering precisely what the government had in mind because politics is at the heart of many issues and events in society. Scholars and media representatives have complained that this is an attempt to muzzle community media.
Zambia also witnessed the introduction of ad hoc regulations apparently to stifle the new media: e.g. the payment of K40,000,000 Kwacha for all new stations, as well as having to make payments to cover the costs of inspections by government officers (Muzyamba, F, and Nyondo, R.). The introduction of such ad hoc regulations is contrary to the spirit and letter of the IBA (2002) and the ZNBC (Amendment) Act (2002) discussed earlier. The former states that there shall be self-management and regulation for the independent media sector, while the latter took away the power of the Minister of government from dictating to, or running the broadcast industry.
The government of Zambia was, during the early part of 2009, on the verge of introducing compulsory media registration for all practitioners. This was to encourage a situation where only qualified practitioners and ethical journalism would get through. However, the voice in favour of self-regulation appears to have prevailed, at least thus far.
The Panos study referred to earlier also alluded to a fear of “vulnerability to sabotage and intimidation by powers that be” and, in one case, there was claim of power outages in a station when airing material critical of government (Muzyamba, F. and Nyondo, R.).
Overall, it is hoped that there shall be a realisation soon enough that community media constitute, perhaps one of government’s and donors’ biggest allies in the battle against disease, poverty, illiteracy, and other vices. Government support for community mass media is therefore desirable.