Govt reluctant to license community radios

HARARE - Although the Broadcasting Services Act of 2001 provides for community broadcasting, no community radio station has been licensed yet as those in power feel having the citizens speak and own a radio station is a threat to their rule, media analysts contend.

The analysts said as a result Zimbabwe was in breach of the principle of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa; Clause V (1) which says: “States shall encourage a diverse, independent private broadcasting sector. A State monopoly over broadcasting is not compatible with the right to freedom of expression.”

Clause V (2) (4) states “that community broadcasting shall be promoted given its potential to broaden access by poor and rural communities to the airwaves.”

In the Sadc region, Civic Society Organisations have done advocacy work on the implementation of the three-tier broadcasting system which also exists in Zimbabwe but is not yet implemented.

The three-tier system which was pioneered by legislative developments in South Africa is now backed by legislation that promotes the system in 10 Sadc countries and is seen as promoting diversity and pluralism.

Of the three, public broadcasting and community broadcasting are struggling as most Sadc countries retain the State broadcasting system and this goes beyond the region. There is no political will to support these two tiers and there is no implementation of legislation where they exist.

Koliwe Majama Misa-Zimbabwe programmes officer broadcasting and ICT said the political will in Zimbabwe is not there to issue community radio licences.

“In fact, the failure of our government to give the communities a voice is an attempt to silence them. Community radio’s struggle in Zimbabwe is spilling into its second effort, and this is unfortunate.

“ A lot of awareness has been raised in the communities on its importance, and the community radio initiatives have made submissions on what they feel would be the ideal regulatory framework for them in as far as definition, licensing and operations.”

Majama added that while 10 radio licences were issued last year it is important to note that those that have been granted licences are in fact aligned to the ruling elite in Zanu PF. “There is no way that you will ever hear certain voices or opinions on these stations even though some of them are talk radio stations that should in fact be harnessing the opinions of the citizenry in a diverse range of topics.”

Journalist Garikai Chaunza said it was important that government issued community radio licences as they will contribute to media plurality and diversity as they represent voices of the subalterns.

“Despite the issues of sustainability community radios by their nature should be owned by local people who produce their own content for their consumption and without any government interference. This is the best model for democratic development communication that Zimbabweans want.”

Chaunza said in March last year, 10 commercial broadcasting licences were issued; two of these are national commercial stations while eight are local commercial stations which are yet to broadcast.

“Notably, all 10 licences have been issued to five companies that are State-owned or controlled — Zimbabwe Newspapers Private Limited, where the government is the majority shareholder and a parastatal, Kingstons Limited —and to three companies which are either owned or run by individuals who are closely associated with the ruling party.

“So at the moment we have a plural media which is not diverse. We have many media with one voice as explained by their ownership structures. They are a multiplication of ZBC and they all amplify the banal ruling Zanu PF voice,” said Chaunza.

Media practitioner Tabani Moyo said lamentable is the fact that the country is still to license community radio stations as provided for in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act of 2001.

“There is urgent need to formulate a clear policy and regulatory framework for community broadcasting which will include a representative and all-encompassing definition of a community for purposes of facilitating the application process and licensing of community broadcasters.

“We also need to review the broadcasting policy framework to secure ZBC’s governance, managerial and editorial independence for it to fulfil its public service mandate as provided for under the new Constitution,” said Moyo.

Journalist Francis Mukuzunga said the issue of community radio stations has been debated for long to an extent that it is losing any relevance because those who are supposed to act on the requests have been ignoring such calls.

“People in the rural communities are tired on calling for community radio stations and they have been forced to listen to the so-called private and State radio stations.

“Zimbabweans’ call for private television stations has also fallen on deaf ears and people are now tuned in to digital satellite television like DStv.”

VMCZ executive director Loughty Dube said: “Zimbabwe is one of the only countries in the region that still do not have community stations and delays in doing so are affecting the development of communities that should be utilising the platform for articulating development issues

“While the issuing of more licences to other players in the radio industry is important as it offers pluralism in the media, it is trite that diversity should also be reflected in the media.”

Journalist Kelvin Jakachira said while the government promulgated the Broadcasting Services Act to regulate the broadcasting services, the law does not sufficiently deal with long lasting problems that beset the broadcasting sector.

“In actual fact the law imposes restrictions on aspiring broadcasters who want to set up their stations. It is a legal fact that, for instance, one cannot apply for a licence without a call for applications by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz).

“So even if one has resources to set up their station they can only enjoy their right to establish a broadcasting station at the benevolence of Baz.

It is for this reason that Zimbabwe is still to have licensed community radio stations 36 years after independence, falling in the same league of media repressive states such as Angola and Swaziland. This is despite the fact the country was the first country to have radio services in the region.”

“Pluralism is generally associated with diversity in the media; the presence of a number of different and independent voices, and of differing political opinions and representations of culture within the media. Citizens expect and need a diversity and plurality of media content and media sources (Doyle, 2002:12).”

 

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