Media groups fume over radio licencing

HARARE - The government’s announcement that it will suspend licencing of prospective radio stations has triggered outpouring anger from media groups which see this as a plot to further cement Zanu PF’s control of the broadcasting services sector.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Christopher Mushowe told Parliament last week that government is planning to suspend issuing of radio licences because those awarded were struggling.

Zimbabwe awarded licences to eight commercial radio stations but only two — Star FM and ZiFm — are operating viably.

But the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) said government’s decision was meant to curtail media diversity and it lacked sincerity.

“While it is regrettable that the local commercial radio stations which were licenced three years ago have struggled to utilise the licences owing to a number of reasons, it cannot be a good reason for the government of Zimbabwe to then worsen the situation by suspending licensing.,” Zacras said in a statement.

“This position is not in the interest of the spirit of broadcasting diversity and pluralism and it defeats the whole agenda to promote media freedom. In announcing this intention he (Mushowe) gave frivolous reasons which in our view highlight failure by government to play a facilitatory role in developing broadcasting media in Zimbabwe particularly community broadcasting.

“It is Zacras’ view that instead of suspending licencing, the government must play an enabler role of assisting the stations by creating a conducive environment where new stations can sustain and serve their communities.”

Zimbabwe is among the countries that have a tight leash on the broadcasting services sector which is dominated by the State-funded Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) which has four radio stations and one functioning television channel.

Despite attempting to liberalise the airwaves by licencing more players — including Star FM and ZiFM — government has been criticised for denying “truly independent” broadcasters licences as the two commercial radio stations are linked to the governing Zanu PF party.

Star FM is owned by Zimpapers which is heavily controlled by government while ZiFM belongs to ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira, Zanu PF representative for Nyanga South constituency.

Zimbabwe is among the countries that have not embraced the three-tier broadcasting system which entails having  public, commercial and community broadcasting services.

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