License genuine community radios

HARARE - The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) should sail along with the new government by awarding community radios licences to deserving operators.

For democracy to flourish and to augment calls by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to democratise the nation, we need to give the ordinary person a voice and this can only happen through the licensing of genuine community radios.

Contrary to assertions in some government quarters that the Baz has already issued licences to community radios, according to the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) there isn’t a single community radio station licensed in the country.

Community radios are established and run by communities themselves, they are not privately-owned and are not profit driven entities.

Interestingly, in 2001, the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Services Act introduced a three-tier system that makes provision for the existence of public, commercial and community broadcasting.

Zacras, which has been capacitated in the formation and running of community radio stations through the Broadcasting Services Act has since 2003 when it was established laboured to have a single community radio station licensed.

Zacras has faced a complexity of challenges in its quest chief among them the reluctance of the government through the licensing authority, Baz, to call for licensing of community radio stations and this has hindered development in community broadcasting.

Some radio stations were licensed in an attempt to deceive listeners into thinking that legitimate community radio stations existed.

Among the licensed radio stations are AB Communications, trading as Gogogoi FM operating in Masvingo; Ray of Hope trading as Ya FM operating in Zvishavane; Kingstons trading as Nyaminyami FM operating in Kariba; Fairtalk Communications trading as Breeze FM operating in Victoria Falls; Zimpapers trading as Diamond FM operating in Mutare; Fairtalk Communications, trading as Skyz Metro FM operating in Bulawayo; Kingstons trading as KE 100.4 FM operating in Harare and AB Communications trading as Faya FM operating in Gweru.

Zacras is on record and has repeatedly said local commercial radio cannot be a substitute for community broadcasting because the two are different in terms of approach, ownership, programming, motivation and principles.

Unlike commercial radio, a community radio by its very nature and definition is cheaper to run, accessible and allows citizen participation at all levels of the stations.

Zacras Harare Declaration of 2011 defines community radio as being “for, by and about the community, whose ownership and management is representative of the community, and pursues a social development agenda”.

Over the years, genuine community radios have been set up and established in various communities but Baz has not bothered to call for community radio applications.

Zacras has complained though that some names of stations recently issued licences bore a resemblance to the community radio stations under the organisation that Baz was refusing to licence.

In 2014, the offices of Radio Kwelaz in Kwekwe were raided by State security officers after the community station was accused of operating illegally. State security seized equipment and CDs containing content on cancer, sexual violence, education and issues affecting the local community.

And I believe there is space for community radios.  In 2009, the then former information deputy minister Jameson Timba noted that Zimbabwe had the capacity to license an additional four television stations and 94 radio stations, in both urban and rural areas.

A representative of LS Telcom of South Africa revealed at a Broadcasting Stakeholders Conference held in Harare on November 5, 2010 that the country actually has 184 FM frequencies almost double the said frequencies registered with the ITU which could also be increased if Zimbabwe so wishes.


 

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