Pressure is mounting on the Zambian government to allow radio and TV stations to operate freely following the closure of a privately-owned Prime TV station, known to be critical of the state.
The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) shut down Prime TV for 30 days on the grounds that it ignored the provision of its licence conditions through its programming.
IBA director general Josephine Mapoma said the Authority decided to take the action because of "unprofessional practice by the station" and added that the license would be reissued once the Station complies with guidelines – but did not specify what these were.
In a letter to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Prime TV director Gerald Shawa argued that the suspension of the licence is not the only remedy available to address the IBA's allegation.
"There are immediate economic effects on the broadcasting institution that would result from the IBA's decision," said Shawa.
Andrew Sakala, Media Association of Zambia President said the IBA closed Valley FM radio of Nyimba for 60 days on similar grounds, and that this latest development may not impact the country's continued digital migration project, but will have ramifications for the local broadcasting sector.
The issue has become political and government representatives have had to meet with foreign diplomats representing the US, UK and EU, to advise them on the situation.
In a statement, US Embassy Public Affairs officer Sean McIntosh said, "US Embassy Lusaka joins other voices in concerns over the Independent Broadcasting Authority's decision to suspend Prime TV's broadcasting licence. The fundamental freedoms of speech and the press are critical for the advancement of a vibrant democracy."
UK Minister for Africa Affair Harriet Baldwin added, "The closure of the TV station is further proof that freedom of expression and media is under threat in Zambia."
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joe Malanje said the IBA is an independent investigation authority that carries out its mandate without government interference.
"According to the regulatory authority, IBA, the closure of Prime TV for 30 days is for the broadcasting network to comply with the media ethics which are currently under investigation," the Minister said.