Freedom of the Press
You are here
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
An oppressive legal environment and biased government media all served to restrict freedom of the press in Zambia in 2006. Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, but the government often restricts this right in practice. The Independent Broadcasting Authority and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Acts, which set up independent boards for the regulatory body and the national broadcaster, have not yet been fully implemented despite being passed in December 2003. A draft Freedom of Information bill has also yet to be passed. Under Section 69 of the penal code, it is a criminal offense for any media outlet to defame the president. Journalists have regularly been subject to criminal libel and defamation suits brought by ruling party leaders under this and other legal provisions. In November 2005, Fred M’membe, editor of Zambia’s only private daily, The Post, was charged with defamation after writing a series of editorials that were critical of President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa. In February 2006, the state finally dropped all charges. The Public Order Act, among other statutes, has at times been used to harass journalists. In March 2006, two journalists working for the Chikuni community radio station were charged with the “publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public” after covering a suspected ritual murder of a young boy.
On August 26, two media workers were harassed by a crowd after a speech made by Michael Sata, president of the opposition party, the Patriotic Front (PF), in which Sata called the licensing fee paid to the reporters’ employer, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), an “unfair tax.” The PF later issued a statement condemning the comments and urging Zambians not to harass or intimidate members of the press. In 2006, the Media Institute of Southern Africa–Zambia released a study revealing imbalance and bias in favor of the ruling party by the ZNBC in its coverage of news during the current election campaigns. This was found to be the case despite the legal provisions requiring equitable coverage of all political candidates. Separately, there were also reports of harassment of ZNBC journalists by opposition supporters. As a result of prepublication review at government-controlled newspapers, journalists commonly practice self-censorship. Opposition political parties and nongovernmental organizations complained of inadequate access to media resources.
The government controls two widely circulated newspapers, the Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily, and the state-owned, pro-government ZNBC dominates the broadcast sector. However, a group of independent newspapers widely criticize the government, and an independent radio station, Radio Phoenix, presents nongovernmental views. Most other private radio stations offer little political reporting, focusing instead on religious issues and music. There are no private television stations, except on expensive foreign satellite services. In March, the government passed an amendment to the Value-Added Tax Act that would have increased the standard rate applicable to the supply of newspapers and magazines and raised the costs of production by 25 percent. The amendment was later withdrawn after protests from local media organizations. Internet access is not restricted by the government, though its use is hindered by socioeconomic conditions and only 2 percent of the population was able to access it regularly in 2006.