Controversy over community radio stations

HARARE - Zimbabwe currently has no bona fide licensed community radio stations despite the government’s claims to the contrary, a local advocacy group has claimed.

Two years ago, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) issued community radio licences to eight stations in what the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) has described as a sham.

Zacras, the umbrella body of community radio initiatives in the country founded in 2003, said all the licensed radio stations were commercial ones.

“The ones we have are far from community radio stations; they are commercial. The government is not willing to license genuine community radio stations based all over the country,” said Zacras programmes officer Kudzai Kwangwari.

The eight licensed “community radio stations” are Ya FM (Zvishavane), Nyaminyami FM (Kariba), Breeze FM (Victoria Falls), Diamond FM (Mutare), Skyz Metro FM (Bulawayo), Capitalk 100.4FM (Harare) and Faya FM ( Gweru).

Kwangwari said the eight stations were licensed by Baz in a bid to dupe Zimbabweans into believing that the country now has genuine community radio stations.

“It was a ploy to confuse people because there are genuine existing community radio stations which the government is unwilling to license.  These include Corah, Radio Dialogue, Y-Star FM, Getjenge FM, 41 FM, Twasumpuka, Kwekwe FM, Berina FM, Radio Chiedza, Patsaka Nyaminyami, Hwange FM, Vemuganga FM, Budja FM, Nkabazwe FM, Zhowane FM, Ntepe FM, Wezhira, Goromonzi FM, Nkayi FM, Tsakani FM, Madziwa FM and Kumakomo FM,” the Zacras official said.

In a bid to create confusion, Kwangwari claimed that Baz licensed radio stations with names almost similar to some of the existing community radio stations that they had refused to license.

“For example, there is a community radio station called Kumakomo FM based in Mutare which Baz has not licensed. Interestingly, they then decided to license instead Diamond FM Kumakomoyo owned by Zimpapers.

“In Kariba there is a community radio station called Patsaka Nyaminyami which has not been granted a licence. The interesting part is that Baz licensed Nyaminyami FM.

“In both cases our interpretation is that the government wanted to confuse people into believing that some existing community radio initiatives had been licensed,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from Baz on the matter were unsuccessful yesterday but recently Zimbabwe’s presidential spokesperson and permanent secretary in the ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba, hit out at those making “noise” for the licensing of community radio stations.

During the official launch of Masvingo’s Hevoi FM in July, Charamba said there was need to re-examine the term “community radio.”’

“We must not be bigoted. We must be rational. Knowledge is how you tether it within a social milieu, let’s interrogate the terminology that we use and see whether it has sense in our own circumstances.

“The word ‘community radio’ presupposes that there is a radio that does not serve the community, so if there is a radio that does not serve the community, who is it speaking to? Does a national radio station not serve a community?” asked Charamba.

The Media, Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary added that Hevoi was both a community and commercial radio station.

“If they cannot serve the Masvingo community, would the community here listen to them? Would the community here listen to them if they start talking about elephants that are non-existent here or Kariba Dam which is not here ignoring, Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam and Lake Mutirikwi?” he asked.

In response, Zacras criticised Charamba for undermining community radio stations.

“It is, therefore, regrettable that an official from the ministry mandated with promoting broadcasting diversity and pluralism in Zimbabwe believes that calls for community radios are unwarranted.

“Commercial radio cannot be a substitute for community broadcasting. This is because the two are different in terms of approach, ownership, programming, motivation and principles.

“Unlike commercial radio, community radio by its very nature and definition is cheaper to run, accessible and allows citizen participation at all levels,” said Zacras in a statement signed by its chairperson John Chirinda.

The statement added: “Section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the freedom of establishment of broadcasting and other electronic media of communication, subject only to State licensing procedures that are necessary to regulate the airwaves and are independent of control by government or by political or commercial interest.”

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