Country Report on the Media Environment in
Zambia to the Partnership Intensive Course at
the Common Wealth Youth Centre in Lusaka on
20th May, 2013.
By Lt Col E Kunda (RTD)
This Report looks at the media environment in Zambia with
particular emphasis on the most popular media houses.
Zambia is a country in the Southern Region of Africa.
The country shares borders with eight other countries,
namely Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique,
Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Congo Democratic Republic.
The country has a land area of 291,00miles or 753,000square
kilometres (Kasoma,1986 ).
The country has a population of 13million with a density of
17.3 persons per square Kilometre.
Lusaka the Capital is the most densely populated with about
100persons per square Kilometre (CSO, Zambia, 2010).
Zambia has a liberalised media policy. Anybody with the
capacity to set up a media house is free to do so.
The policy was introduced in 1991, after the change of the
government system.
Previously Zambia was a one-party democracy, this changed
in 1991, when people, through the Movement for Multiparty
Democracy (MMD), decided to go back to the multiparty type
of democracy.
However, despite the liberalisation of the media industry, the
print media has recorded little growth in terms of new
publications on the market.
The country has continued to be dominated by three
daily newspapers namely; the Times of Zambia, the
Zambia Daily Mail and The Post.
The first two are public newspapers, though they
operate as government newspapers while the third is a
private newspaper (Nkandu, 2012).
Initially, soon after the policy came into effect, a
number of newspapers, mainly tabloids, sprung up, but
could not withstand the pressures of the market, they
collapsed. Over 25 newspapers and three magazines
were registered by the National Archives of Zambia
(Chirwa, 1997).
The broadcast industry on the other hand has recorded
considerable growth.
Currently, the country has about 50 operating radio stations.
The majority of these are community stations, set up by
various communities in their respective local environments.
Only about three percent of the 50 radio stations are
As for television the country has six channels
currently on air, while eight (8) have just
received construction permits.
Eight new radio stations have equally received
construction permits. This brings the number
of radio stations to 58 and that of television to
Except for the national broadcaster, Zambia National
Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), the rest of the radio
stations have limited geographical areas to cover (InterMedia
Survey Institute, 2010).
The maximum radius they can cover is 80Kilometres
In terms of popularity, the most popular news media in
Zambia are the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation
(ZNBC) television and radio; mainly due to the large
geographical areas they cover.
The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation attracts
a lot of attention from people particularly during news
time. Nearly four million people watch ZNBC TV
programming, particularly news, every day (
retrieved 12th May, 2013). The one hour-long evening
news programme which comes at 1900hrs is the most
However, the programme suffered a set-back from
early 2010 to September to 2011 when the Movement
for Multi Party Democracy (MMD) then in power
turned the station into a full-time propaganda mouth
piece when the party was campaigning for the 2011
This infuriated and distanced most viewers from the
station. Viewership dropped drastically with most
people preferring to watch news on the privately
owned television stations.
The public media were extremely biased in that they
gave the MMD more coverage. They even blocked
some stakeholder views which they felt were antigovernment or anti-MMD. For example, Transparency
International Zambia (TIZ) had a running programme
on ZNBC which was blocked even when it was fully paid
for...they went into defaming all those perceived to be
anti-government, observed
Goodwell Lungu, TIZ
Executive Director in an interview with Misa Zambia
after the elections(PAZA/MISA Zambia,2012).
The station’s following has since returned to its earlier
position because it is now seemingly balancing its news
coverage; covering both the ruling party and the
opposition (ibid:2).
ZNBC radio channels are equally popular too. The three
channels are Radios One, Two and Four.
According to a survey carried out by InterMedia Survey
Institute in 2010, Seventy eight percent of weekly radio
listeners in Zambia said they often listen to one of
three state-run channels (InterMedia Survey
The listenership increases even more at 1315hrs every day, when
the three channels present the Network News Bulletin.
Radio One is most popular in rural areas while Radio Two is popular
in urban areas particularly among the elite and the middle class and
Radio Four is popular among the elite and the youth (ibid).
Radio One broadcasts in seven local languages namely; Bemba,
Lozi, Kaonde, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja and Tonga. The Channel is seen
as a medium through which Zambia’s cultural diversity is celebrated
in local language broadcasts.
The channels broadcast a variety of programmes covering almost all
aspects of human beings although research has shown that
programmes of entertainment nature and the informative kind tend
to be the most favoured ( retrieved 12th May, 2013).
As seen already most people pay more attention to the
national electronic media and only a few thousands of the
country’s 13million people read newspapers daily. For
instance, only about 12000 people read the Times of Zambia
Daily(Lusaka Times), while slightly above10000 people read
Even the Post newspaper which boasts of a higher circulation
does not go beyond 50000copies of print run per day (Zambia, 2013)
According to research findings by this author, the main
reason why people do not read newspapers daily is the
lack of access to newspapers for most people. For
urban centres such lack of access is influenced by
economic factors, and for rural populations it is
influenced by poor distribution to the rural areas
coupled with economic factors, which make newspaper
companies fail to prioritise distribution to such areas
(Kunda, 1998).
In consequence, the majority of Zambians get their
information from either radio or television as indicated
by about 67 percent of respondents in recent research
by this author (Kunda, 2010).
Apart from three or so multinational companies which advertise in
almost all news media houses, Zambia has a very limited base of
companies which advertise in the media. The media houses share
the little there is on the market.
The overall reach of ZNBC ensures it has a larger share of
advertising revenues, while commercial stations generally struggle.
Community radio stations and religious stations, on the other hand,
are dependent on bilateral aid or support from religious institutions
or NGOs to sustain themselves (InterMedia Survey Institute, 2010).
It is mainly because of lack advertising incomes that a number of
media houses have collapsed. At the advent of plural politics in
Zambia in the early 1990s several media houses, especially
newspapers sprung up, but as indicated earlier, they did not go far,
they went under.
The advent of technology, has brought with it new
media in Zambia. The internet which is now being used
in most institutions has facilitated the emergence of
new media in the country. Among the new media are
face book and twitter which have become very popular
among Zambians particularly the youth. News today is
first heard through the social media before the main
stream media publish or broadcast it. For instance,
when one of the hostel rooms got burnt at the
University of Zambia recently, most university students
heard about it through the social media before it was
picked up by the mainstream media.
The coming of cell phones with the internet facility has
made communication through the social media faster and
easier. People are now able to report from where ever they
are in any part of the country. They are able to send news
reports to both colleagues and media houses.
The 2011 parliamentary and presidential elections in
Zambia is a good example of a situation where people in
Lusaka were able to get the results in distant remote rural
areas before the Electoral Commission could announce
them officially.
It is believed that it was because of this aspect, that the
government then, failed to manipulate the results in its
favour to win the elections. Reporting has now been made
easier and instantaneous.
1. The major challenges facing the media in the country are mainly
financial and logistical. The market is not big and vibrant enough to
support the industry. The people who pay for adverts on television
and radio are the same people who place adverts in the print
Resources do not seem to be enough to go round all the media
houses. The situation is worsened by the poor economic state of
the country which has led to many companies reducing on their
advertising budgets. Thus reducing on the income that media
houses, including ZNBC, get through advertising (
retrieved 12th May, 2013).
Although state owned, ZNBC survives on advertising and television
levy; 70% of the station’s income is from advertising (ibid).
2. Transport is another major factor hindering media houses from
performing as they should. Most of them have only one or two
limping vehicles which must be shared by field journalists and
administrators. In most cases, journalists have to hike to and from
assignments (Kunda,1998).
Politicians who have the resources take advantage of this and
provide the logistics and get covered in places and issues they
would like to be covered on.
Because they move together to same assignments, newsmen and
women end up writing same stories and at times have same
headlines (Kunda, 1998).
Logistically demanding stories such environmental concerns are not
covered as they should in the Zambian media.
3. Another roadblock to good media coverage in Zambia is the culture of
physical and verbal harassment of journalists, slowly creeping into the
Zambian society.
There is a growing trend among both politicians and ordinary citizens to
harass journalists especially at public gatherings such as political rallies.
This was particularly more pronounced during the previous government’s
administration; people had taken sides against the media (MISA, Zambia,
July, 2012).
Government or state run media journalists were perceived as
propagandists who only gathered information to use against opposition
The private media journalists were perceived by government supporters
as people who were bent on destroying the good name of government.
Each group of journalists was in danger of being attacked, depending on
their assignment.
The bread and butter issue is another challenge Journalists in the
country face. They have poor working conditions, particularly
those in the private sector. Apart from poor salaries, most of them
do not have decent accommodation.
The consequence is that the journalists are demotivated and
compromised; they have resorted to cheque book journalism. They
demand to be paid to cover certain events otherwise they ignore
the event, especially corporate events.
Radio and television broadcasters demand some payments to put
certain programmes or individuals on air. Music artistes are
especially vulnerable. To have their music played on air for
promotional purposes, they pay certain producers and presenters
for the music to see the light of day on the air (...)
5. Another impediment to good media operations in Zambia are
some oppressive media laws found mainly in the Penal code
and state secrets Acts.
These pieces of legislation tend to prevent journalists from
practicing their trade freely.
The legislations have made litigation against the media
become an order of the day (MISA Zambia, July, 2012, pp2027).
However, despite the challenges the Media in Zambia
have continued to perform and provide news,
information and entertainment to the public with some
degree of satisfaction.
This is particularly true of the most popular media in
the country i.e. television and radio, in this case the
national broadcaster whose Tv channel has nearly one
third of the national population watching every day
while the three state radio channels also command
over 78 percent of listenership per week.