Community radios demand licences

HARARE - Community radios are up in arms with the government for allegedly sideling them in fear of the people’s voice, following the awarding of licences to two commercial radios.

Last year the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) called for applications from commercial radios only, with the communities being excluded.

Licences were awarded to Star FM and ZiFM Stereo.

Members of the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacaras) lashed out at the government for politicising the whole matter and making sure that community radios are excluded from the exercise.

Zenzele Ndebele, a community radio activist and a member of Radio Dialogue FM said government is afraid of the people, hence sidelining communities in the licencing process.

“The problem that we have is that we have a government that is afraid of its own people.

“So that’s why you find at ZBC they reduce the number of live programmes and do not bother to use social media because people will tell them who they are and they do not want that.

“For that reason they see community radios as enemies because people will be given a voice,” he said.

Ndebele added that the communities should just take an aggressive approach towards government if they are to meet their goals.

“A speaker spoke earlier on the history of community radio or what looked like community radio then.

“What is interesting is during Ian Smith’s time, he had what he called community radio, Radio Jacaranda in 1964, Manica (1969), Matopos and Mthwakazi in the 70s.

 “Smith wanted to counter the pirate stations broadcasting from Mozambique and Russia.

“The interesting part we have seen is that now Zanu PF decided to set Voice of Zimbabwe to counter the propaganda of the pirate radio stations that are broadcasting outside Zimbabwe.

“I ask myself, did Smith lose his pocket dictionary about bad leadership and this present government picked it up and said this is the manual that works. Because if you look at how they operate, it is the same, there is just the difference of the colour of the skin,” said Ndebele.

Ndebele went on to attack the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), including the then minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo for crafting it.

He was speaking at a broadcasting conference held by Misa Zimbabwe, in Harare on Friday.

“When you look at the state of the community radios in Zimbabwe, there are two issues. There is the legal set up and in terms of how prepared they are and where they get the money and how they are operating. If you look at the legal way, you will remember that after Capital Radio won, the monopoly of ZBC was cut down."

“Capital Radio started broadcasting and in a hurry overnight, Jonathan came up with the BSA which was a reaction to something that had happened. And in his crafting some of the laws that are in the act you can tell that something was wrong,” he said.

He argued that the laws pertaining community radio licensing were politically motivated and a way of silencing the people.

“When you look at the community radio, first of all, they are not supposed to broadcast political content and you ask yourself what is political because everything is political. The way I am wearing this shirt is political, why I am carrying an i-Pad is political."

“The whole law is crafted in a way that favours commercial radios. Because if you look at the law that is used for applications they talk about the board of directors, shareholding structure and where you are going to get the money. It is okay that Zimbabweans are supposed to own radio stations but the question is can the communities afford to?”

“When you look at the whole process of application the law is very silent about how community radios apply, what is the criteria. So you find that the guys have no intention of giving the community radios licences although there is a mention of the radios in the (BSA)."

“The whole design is about commercial interest who owns what and where you got the money,” said Ndebele.

Ndebele said there is a lot that still needs to be done when it comes to the law governing community radios.

He added that community radio stations are in place and ready to broadcast.

“Under the Act, it is forbidden to seek foreign funding for the radio stations. That includes donor funding. If donor funding is not allowed in the communities, you have people who cannot take themselves to the hospital, buy themselves painkillers, how do you expect them to buy a microphone?"

“Yes of course, you will have advertising but you need to set up before you get it. Where do you get the initial start-up funds so we have a problem when it comes to the model of funding? So some of these community radio stations we have are just committees and most of them are funded,” said Ndebele.

The activist encouraged community radios to learn from the best and embrace technology to help them start broadcasting.

“The way forward for community radio stations is using digitalised technology that can allow us to bypass this government. We can use the free to air channels to start our own radio stations, so the government can keep its airwaves we will move ahead.

“And I want to say let’s learn from our leaders who liberated the country by also going outside and broadcasting. The so called pirate radio stations also learnt from Zanu PF and Zapu that it can be done. So if they did and it was successful why can’t we just repeat it? This time more successful using modern technology. I think the time of waiting has passed because for 10 years we have been asking them for the licences, the time of comradeship is over. We are going to go out there and get licences one way or the other. We have to fight for what we believe,” he said.

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