Dipak Patel sues ZNBC over biased UPND coverage

DIPAK Patel, campaign manager for United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema has sued the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) for bias and failure to be impartial in the coverage of their campaigns for the January presidential election.

Mr Patel along with UPND general secretary Winston Chibwe have claimed that ZNBC was flawed and incompetent and that the bias in media coverage had negatively impacted on the election campaign of party president Hichilema.

Mr Patel and Mr Chibwe in their petition in the High Court have argued that the biasness by ZNBC was drastically affecting a free and fair election result because the national broadcaster’s continued derelictions of duty were substantially not in conformity with the law and practice of fair media coverage.

The duo contended that the derelictions of duty on the part of ZNBC were indicative that the majority of the voters would be drastically prevented from electing a presidential candidate of their choice, adding that such conduct by the national broadcaster would affect the election result which would not reflect the true choice as well as free will of the majority of voters.

They argued that the conduct of ZNBC in blacking out the UPND and Mr Hichilema’s national campaigns was unconstitutional because it was being implemented in a discriminatory manner hence violating the doctrine of equality before the law.

Mr Patel and Mr Chibwe have petitioned the High Court to declare that the right and entitlement of the UPND leader should be strictly adhered to by the national broadcaster for purposes of promoting conditions conducive to conduct of a free and fair election.

They said in their petitions that the denial of media coverage of Mr Hichilema during his countrywide presidential campaign tours by the national broadcaster was contrary to the electoral rules.

“The continued denial by ZNBC of media coverage for UPND and Mr Hichilema is an infringement of the fundamental freedom of expression and the right to information and is thus unconstitutional,” Mr Patel and Mr Chibwe said.

The two UPND officials have also sought an interim injunction restraining ZNBC or its servants, agents, journalists, pressmen, photographers from barring, prohibiting and denying Mr Hichilema his equitable and fair access to party election broadcasts and political advertisement.

Mr Patel and Mr Chibwe have sought a court order of mandamus compelling ZNBC to attend and give fair coverage to all political rallies by the opposition political party during its presidential campaigns.

They said ZNBC as a public broadcaster was mandated to give all political parties equal media coverage during campaigns but that the national broadcaster had either failed, refused or neglected to cover the UPND.

“Mr Hichilema as the presidential candidate has been denied media coverage for his campaign tour at the University of Zambia (UNZA), the Copperbelt University (CBU), Chingola, Kitwe, North-Western Province, Livingstone, Eastern Province and Western Province.  ZNBC is in breach of section 8 of the electoral conduct regulations and section 33 of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Act as they are being biased towards the ruling party,” Mr Patel and Mr Chibwe complained.