The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today urged the broadcasting authority in Zambia to restore the license of the privately owned Prime Television.

Zambia’s Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) on Thursday suspended the broadcasting license of Prime Television with immediate effect. In the letter to Prime TV proprietor Gerald Shawa, IBA board member Josephine Mapoma said that “the cancellation of the license is necessary in the interest of the public safety. Security, peace, welfare or good order”. In March, the government had stopped all advertisements to the channel and ordered its officials not to deal with the network.

The decision to cancel the license of Prime TV came after the channel refused to broadcast government advertisements on the campaign to fight the coronavirus pandemic for free. Shawa said in a statement that Prime TV’s position reflected a collective decision of private media outlets, noting that the government had still not paid them for coverage during the 2016 elections.

Meanwhile, the Law Association of Zambia has described the IBA’s decision to cancel the license as illegal, as “it was done prematurely with out following the correct channels of the law”.

”We urge the Zambian authorities to reverse the disproportionate cancellation of Prime TV’s license and ensure the station’s journalists can do their job of informing the public at this crucial time”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is posing a major threat to lives of people around the world, governments need to work in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation with the media to convey public health messages.”

Last year, the IBA had suspended Prime TV’s license for 30 days for “exhibiting unprofessional elements in its broadcasting”.