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Uproar over Zambia's plan to regulate online broadcasting

May 23, 2024

The Zambian government's recent announcement that it will require licencing of online media has raised concern among rights activists who say it is an infringement on freedom of expression and speech.

Close up of a vlogger speaking into a microphone
Activists say Zambia's plans to regulate online content would infringe on the right to freedom of expressionImage: YAY Images/IMAGO

Zambia's government says it will be revising the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Act to provide regulation of online broadcasting and podcasts.

Although the government insists that licensing online media is only meant to protect citizens and victims of cybercrimes, activists are warning thyat such a move would infringe on the right to freedom of expression.

Zambia's chief government spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa maintains that the proposed law will help combat cybercrime, coordinate cyber security matters, develop relevant skills, and help promote the responsible use of social media platforms.

"The government does not intend to introduce any legislation intended to stifle citizens enjoyment of their freedoms of expression and speech on social media," he told DW.

Mweetwa said the IBA Act that is currently in place prohibits broadcasting any services to the Zambian public without a license.

Press freedom in decline worldwide

Regulation 'not in line with democratic values'

The chief executive officer of the non-governmental organization Bloggers of Zambia, Richard Mulonga, said regulating online media should be avoided in all cases as it does not align with democratic values.

"In as much as we recognize the need for enhanced internet legislation to make the online spaces safe and secure for all, there's a need for these laws and policies to be democratic, they must be specific and they must enhance online rights and freedoms rather than silence citizen's activities on the internet," Mulonga said.

He added that the term 'abuse of social media' has been weaponized to encourage the creation of new "laws that can be used to target citizens on the internet."

In 2021, the Zambian government enacted a controversial digital security law to tackle digital crime, the so-called Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act.

While the Act prohibits the interception of communication in the majority of cases, it states that a law enforcement officer may intercept communications when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed.

Curbing misinformation online

However, some Zambians welcome the changes to the act. Online influencer Precious Phiri said the mushrooming of online media has given rise to an increasing amount of misinformation. She added that the licensing of online media could help curtail this.

"There will be a limitation in the way people participate to spread or deliver information and then the advantages will be that media companies will not be at liberty to publish information anyhow. Meaning most of the information will be credible, reliable, and viable," Phiri said.

According to Modern Muyembe, the Media Development Director at the Zambian Ministry of Information and Media, the amended law will require online broadcasting companies to acquire an operating license costing more than $1,000 (€923) annually to operate online.

Pinwheel freedom of speech

Online regulation a commmon theme in Africa

In Nigeria, the federal government previously directed all online broadcast service provider and all social media platforms — including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others — to obtain broadcast licenses for their services.

The move, which took place during former President Muhammadu Buhari's administration, also raised allegations of clamping down on free speech.

In Kenya meanwhile, the government recommended stricter regulations for TikTok instead of banning the platform. The recommendation follows accusations from the interior ministry that the platform has been used to spread propaganda, promote fraud, and distribute sexual content.

Many young Kenyans use platforms like TikTok to sell products and earn a living through monetization.

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This article was adapted from a radio report.

Edited by: Ineke Mules


DW Africa's Zambia correspondent Kathy Short
Kathy Short Reporter for DW Africa covering hard news and features for the daily AfricaLink radio show.