Six Zambian media groups have lost their court battle to force the
government to implement broadcasting reform, reports Ellen Chikale.
In a 34-page judgment, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala ruled in favour of the government, saying that a previous ruling in the Lusaka High Court rested on an incorrect reading of acts governing the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA).

The court battle began over delays in appointing members of boards for the two bodies.

Justice Sakala said that the Minister of Information has the power to reject or accept names recommended to serve on the two boards. The High Court had earlier ordered the minister to submit recommended names to Parliament.

Justice Sakala said the minister should not be a rubber stamp or a conveyor belt in appointing members to the ZNBC and the IBA boards. Before the High Court had declared the minister's refusal to submit the names to parliament as illegal and irrational, that judge should have determined the meaning of the word "recommendation".

The December 2004 ruling in the High Court had been founded on the democratisation of the media.

The Supreme Court instead accepted the Attorney General argument that the minister was at liberty to accept or reject names recommended by the ad hoc appointments committee as its role was merely to advise.

He said the approach taken in the earlier judgment amounted to nothing but usurping the powers of the legislature by the judiciary. It was not the duty of the court to edit or paraphrase laws passed by parliament but to merely interpret the law. 

He also emphasized the need to draw a distinction between constituting a board and the operations of the board.

The judgment said once the board is established, it becomes independent and its operations are beyond the control of the minister and any other authority.

In reaction, the vice president of the Press Association of Zambia, Amos Chanda, said the judgment was a big blow to the fight for a free press in Zambia and was not expected.

But the chairperson of the press freedom committee of the Post Newspaper, Webster Malido, said they accepted the outcome of the judgment as a Supreme Court decision.