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IBA has acted in national interest

ON MONDAY August 22, 2016 the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) cracked the whip and suspended broadcasting licences for Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Radio Itezhi-Tezhi for alleged unprofessional conduct.
The three media had been consistently broadcasting material that could not be distinguished from hate speech and openly inciting political violence before, during and after the August 11 general elections.
As usual the IBA’s measure has attracted hysterical reactions from mainly media advocacy groups and those who have scores to settle with the government.
Most of those opposing the suspension of the broadcasting licences have not bothered to interrogate the reasons the IBA has given, but have rushed to issue subjective statements against the government for the attention of their neo-colonial principals.
IBA board chairperson Justin Mutale announced during a press briefing in Lusaka the suspension was with immediate effect and that the three broadcasting houses should stop to operate citing Section 29 (1) (j) of the IBA Amendment Act of 2010.
But even before the former soldier could finish his statement the knives were already out. Media advocacy groups led by PANOS Southern Africa (PSAf) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia chapter were having a field day hurling flak at the government.
PSAf executive director Lilian Kiefer cried that clamping down on media space or banning selected media houses cannot instil professionalism in the media.
Mrs Kiefer postulated that such measures had the potential to embolden the affected media houses rather than correct them.
“Access to information allows the public to effectively participate in informed decision-making on matters affecting them. The public’s freedom of expression should override any discomfort and fear that Zambia might have in any situation and topic,” she said.
This is a very dangerous interpretation of freedom of speech considering that there has already been sporadic violence in a certain region of Zambia mainly fanned by the hate speech and outright incitation purveyed through these three and a few other media houses.
The right to freedom of expression ceases to exist if it threatens the larger society’s right to life, safety and peace.
The rights of a few journalists, their wealthy employers and the political interests they serve cannot and should not be allowed to sacrifice national security.
Under the guise of serving the public the ‘free’ or so-called ‘independent’ media serve the narrow interests of their owners and allied politicians with vested interests.
Media advocacy organisations, which of course are not independent themselves, should not have rushed to demonising the IBA before engaging it to understand the factors that led to its decision.
The authority does not consist of a bunch of illiterate or dumb individuals. These are highly educated and experienced men and women picked through a widely consultative process.
There is no country anywhere in the world where freedom is absolute. There are always red lines which should not be crossed to preserve public security.
And regulatory bodies like the IBA are created to guard these red lines and hold those who cross them with impunity to account.
PSAf and MISA Zambia should understand that no government can just wake up and shut a media house. Their flawed, Western interpretation of media freedom and freedom of expression has caused havoc in many countries where it has been tolerated.
It has claimed lives and displaced thousands.
The genocide in Rwanda and bloody armed conflicts in the two Sudans are examples of what reckless media can cause.
Innocent Zambians have been maimed or displaced in Southern Province by those who have been incited by crassly irresponsible reporting and programming by some media outlets.
Since last year the IBA has been appealing to media houses to refrain from hate speech and openly inciting violence. It has spent a lot of money to reach out to broadcasting stations to explain the dangers of irresponsible journalism and the limits the law has drawn.
Former minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Chishimba Kambwili had repeatedly pleaded with the media to refrain from activities that threaten national security.
Many organisations and individuals have in fact admonished the IBA for taking too long to crack the whip. Lives have been lost, property has been destroyed as a result of statements and stories broadcast by the three and a few more media outlets aimed at inciting people to topple an elected government.
Few countries would have allowed the kind of activities these media houses have been engaged in. The IBA has acted in the interest of the nation.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail deputy news editor.