The Zambian government recently restricted the approved radius of the Lusaka-based University of Zambia (UNZA) Radio, a training unit of the Department of Mass Communication, to within the campus grounds. On the same day, the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) ordered mobile phone users to register their SIM cards with service providers.
ZICTA warned that failure to register SIM cards after the deadline would result in SIM deactivation, leaving subscribers unable to communicate. The Copperbelt Province-based Flava FM community radio station initially reported that the actions of ZICTA were in compliance with the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Act No.15 of 2009 and the Statutory Instrument on the Registration of Electronic Communication Apparatus No. 65 of 2011.
Zambia currently has three mobile service providers: MTN, Airtel, and state-owned CellZ. All three essentially provide pay-as-you-go services, meaning that mobile phone customers can acquire SIM cards anonymously and pay for air time as and when they need it. Many Zambians also rely on their mobile phones to access the Internet. This is critical, given that dial-up and broadband services are not only expensive but poorly distributed throughout the country. The new requirement will also make it much easier for government actors to identify cell phone users, a change that could lead to infringement on user privacy.
A question that the new rule leaves many Zambians facing was put forth by journalist Ndubi Mvula, on his Facebook page:
Now that ZICTA is asking that we register our sim cards, how many should one register. I have seven sim cards from different mobile providers[?].
But the most shocking news of the day was the restriction of the UNZA Radio reception radius which, prior to the restriction, covered greater Lusaka and surrounding areas.
UNZA radio has in the past featured many civic and political leaders including President Michael Sata as an opposition leader in part of the university’s training.
According to the Zambian Watchdog, Information Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga, who until 2011 was Managing Editor of The Post, a publication that was once independent and critical of previous administrations, warned that the government would start revoking licenses for community radio stations that did not abide by what he termed ‘government regulations.’ Malupenga was appointed into government after the 2011 elections which saw opposition Patriotic Front oust the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy.
Ironically, nine journalists from The Post—nearly the entire staff—have been appointed to government positions by President Sata. Among them is the President's Press and Public Relations aide, George Chellah.
During a recent workshop, Malupenga warned about government clamping down on the media when he ‘taught’ journalists to censor some politicians that he did not want grabbing media headlines.
Commenting on the UNZA Radio story, Susujena wrote [comments do not have individual links]:
PF should avoid digging their grave deeper than it already is. I know of no Government since independence in 1964 that has lost popularity in just under one year in office.
When Michael Sata [was] featured on Phoenix Radio while he was in opposition, he strongly condemned MMD when they almost closed the Radio Station due to licensing problems. He went further to assure all private Radio Stations that once in Power, he will allow any Radio Station that had financial muscle to broadcast throughout the country. But now he has completely turned against the same promise he made.
Another reader, Inspector, scoffed at the PF government claims that the media was free under it:
This government has been telling us that the media is more free after PF came into government than before. What can they say now? Are they able to repeat the same words again? Its a shame to have people who can never stick to one statement. It is a government of flip-flops. Nothing is permanent. Next time they begin asking us to to buy the Post only. I…ts. Malupenga is an i…t. If you want to prove it, check the way he speaks. He is so deceitful.
On the Lusaka Times website, reader Mwaba-Jr wrote:
As this might be good, i hope our CNP-PF [Clueless Hyena-Patriotic Front] dictators will not be tracking our conversations and arrest us from our homes for not being on their side.
A few days after President Sata took up office after last year’s elections, he instructed his newly appointed Attorney-General, Mumba Malila, to seek ways of controlling online news publications, some of which had been and continue to be critical of him both as an opposition leader and now as President. It now appears that this control is being extended to other media and related information and communication technology areas.
On Twitter, one tweep said it was long overdue: