Zambia, a landlocked country at the crossroads of Central, Southern and East Africa, has a media landscape that is fairly rich and diverse. The media sphere in Zambia encompasses a wide array of communication platforms, including television, radio, cinema, newspapers, magazines, and web-based internet sites. This article provides a curated selection of informative sources to help you stay updated on Zambian news.
The establishment of new media outlets and the growth of the media industry have contributed to a more diverse and vibrant media landscape in Zambia. A research article by Peter Brooke reveals that the decolonization of Zambia in the 1960s significantly impacted the media sector, fostering greater freedom of expression and the establishment of new media outlets. The article also underscores the role of short-wave radio broadcasting and the increasing availability and affordability of transistor radios in Zambia in fueling the growth of the media industry. Transistor radios provided better access to news and information, especially in rural areas where other forms of media may not have been readily available. Their proliferation also made it challenging for the government to control the media landscape, as monitoring and regulating content became more difficult.
Zambia’s official language is English; hence, media publications and broadcasts are produced mostly in English. The country's population is estimated at more than 20 million. While English is the most commonly used second language, only 2 percent of the population speak English as their native language. As reported by Translators without Borders, the most widely spoken languages are Bemba (spoken by 35 percent of the population), Nyanja or Chewa (20 percent), Tonga (12 percent) and Lozi (6 percent).
The Zambian government operates a public relations outfit, the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS), which is responsible for promoting a positive image of the government. It also owns and operates two daily newspapers, the Times of Zambia and the Daily Mail. In addition to the state-owned newspapers, there are several other privately owned newspapers, the most influential being the News Diggers, Mast, Daily Nation, Lusaka Times and Lusaka Voice.
For purely digital news, platforms like Mwebantu, Zambia Reports, and Zambian Watchdog cover a wide range of topics, including politics, entertainment, media, sports, lifestyle, and business. These news sites have garnered more than 2.5 million, 1.6 million, and 1.3 million followers on their respective Facebook pages.
The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) is the national broadcaster, operating three TV channels and three radio stations. ZNBC also maintains a presence on Facebook and YouTube, where it has garnered more than 858,000 and 93, 000 followers, respectively. In addition to the state-owned broadcast media, there are 42 privately owned TV channels and around 120 privately owned radio stations. Some of the most influential privately owned TV channels are Prime TV, Diamond TV, and MUVI Television. These private media outlets have more diverse viewpoints and are critical of the government.
Internationally, Zambian news receives coverage from several French and English-speaking international media outlets, including Voice of America, the Conversation, the Independent, News Now, Okayafrica, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio France Internationale, the Guardian, the English section of Africanews, BBC Africa and Sky News.
The state of freedom of expression in Zambia has been a continual focus for international organizations. The former ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF), maintained tight control over both state and privately owned media, resulting in the closure of media outlets and the dismissal of outspoken journalists. However, the situation has improved since the new government took office in August 2021, with reduced interference and increased media freedom, as reported by Reporters Without Borders. In February 2022, a court ruled the 2015 closure of Zambia's most important independent newspaper, The Post, as illegal, signaling a positive development.
In 2023, Reporters Without Borders, ranked Zambia 87th out of 180 countries, which indicates an improvement to last year's rank of 109. The Freedom House report categorizes Zambia as “partly free,” giving it a score of 54 out of 100 because of restrictive laws that limit political space and online speech. For instance, the access to information law, promised for years, has still not been enacted. The Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act that was adopted in March 2021, officially with the aim of protecting Zambian citizens from online abuse, is seen by many as a tool to muzzle the online press, as highlighted in a report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). Finally, the Defamation Act is often used by the government to arrest citizens and journalists on charges of defaming the president.
Internet penetration in Zambia remains relatively low at 21.2 percent, according to a report by DataReportal, implying that about 78.8 percent of the population remained offline at the beginning of 2023. Only 13.3 percent of the total population actively uses social media, with Facebook (2.60 million users) and LinkedIn (640,000 users) being the most widely utilized platforms. They are followed by Facebook Messenger (366,000), Instagram (349,800), and Twitter (154,500). A recent study about social media consumption in Zambia found that 71.3 percent of respondents used social media to counteract government propaganda.
Zambia's media has undergone a significant transformation, shaped by the historical context of decolonization, technological advancements, and the resilience of both state and private media entities. Despite these positive changes, challenges such as restrictive laws and limited internet access continue to pose obstacles. However, with the continued advancement of technology, effective regulations and the potential for increased internet penetration, Zambia's media landscape is on the cusp of further evolution, presenting new prospects for information dissemination and public engagement.