Zambia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Zambia

Zambia

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

64

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

24

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed in Zambia, but the provisions can be broadly interpreted, enabling the government to restrict many rights in practice. The Public Order Act, among other statutes, has at times been used to harass journalists. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Acts, which together set up independent boards for the regulatory body and the national broadcaster, have not yet been fully implemented despite being passed in December 2003. Until early 2007, there was a major controversy over the appointment of the ZNBC board of directors under the new legal framework. While media institutions interpreted the new law to mean that the minister of information had no say over the names presented to him, the government took the opposite view. In March 2007, the Supreme Court overturned an earlier judgment by the high court that had confirmed the media institutions’ interpretation. As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, it is now clear that the government has the final say in appointments to the board of directors. Even so, in spite of promises from the government that the IBA board would be appointed in August 2007, no appointments had been made by year’s end. The draft freedom of information bill had also yet to be passed, and many officials are noticeably unwilling to talk to journalists. Libel can be prosecuted in either a civil or a criminal court, and defamation of the president is explicitly a criminal offense. Yet the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff, and it is rare that a journalist receives jail time as a result of a libelous article. Journalists are not required to obtain a license in order to report, although it is recommended by the Ministry of Information.

Government officials continued to harass journalists in 2007. On May 17, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Mike Mlongoti threatened to revoke an operating license for Petauke Explorers, a local commercial radio station, for featuring the president of one of the leading political parties in an on-air, paid-for interview. Separately in July, police in the capital city of Lusaka prevented Q-FM, a private radio station, from mounting broadcasting equipment that would allow live coverage of a demonstration outside the gates of parliament. Police said that the permit issued to the conveners of the demonstration did not include live coverage of the event. The government had attempted to limit live Q-FM broadcasts in the past, particularly in the period leading up to the 2006 general election. In November, Radio Lyambai was banned from broadcasting live call-in shows because the station was “becoming a platform for confrontation, controversies, and a channel of insults and misinformation.” Unlike in previous years, in 2007, the government did not arrest individual journalists, but there was one reported incident of members of the Anticorruption Commission searching the premises of a local radio station and confining station staff during the search.

The government controls two widely circulated newspapers, the Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily, and the state-owned, progovernment ZNBC dominates the broadcast media. Owing to prepublication review at government-controlled newspapers, journalists at those outlets commonly practice self-censorship. In fact, in September, the information minister threatened journalists at a number of state-owned outlets with dismissal if they criticized him or the government. Opposition political parties and nongovernmental organizations complained of inadequate access to mass media resources, and the process by which these outlets must obtain a license is cumbersome and expensive. However, a group of independent newspapers widely criticizes the government, and an independent radio station, Radio Phoenix, presents nongovernmental views, though few others report on politics. The available privately owned television stations are not locally owned and relay content primarily from foreign networks. International outlets were able to operate freely throughout the country. The government does not restrict internet access, though its use is hindered by lack of widespread access—only 4.3 percent of the population was online in 2007.