The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe’s (BAZ) call for broadcasting services licence applications has received a lukewarm response due to concerns that the move will tighten the state’s control over the media.
One of the calls is for ten community radio stations, something Zimbabwe has not had for almost 40 years, according to a Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe statement.
“Locally, community radio could mitigate a number of challenges. From a humanitarian perspective, community radio can assist in drought and flooding such as the devastation of Cyclone Idai we saw last year,” said Vivienne Marara the national coordinator of the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations.
Marara said the current state of radio is fixated on the issues of the two largest Zimbabwean cities Harare and Bulawayo and that broadcasting is more about profit sustainability and attracting advertisers.
“The voice of the ordinary people and their issues are missing from the radio. Zimbabwean media is mainstream and élitist serving only a small pool of people, not all areas in the country even get newspapers,” Marara said.
BAZ has prescribed geographical areas for the radio licences, with a concentration in the Matabeleland region.
“The call literally imposes communities that are preferred by the government to apply for the licences. It is not explained why the government has taken the route of imposing itself on given communities.
“This segregation seems to point to the fact that the government has already done its groundwork in line with its thrust of licensing itself to broadcast at community levels,” the Misa Zimbabwe statement said.
Marara said prescribing geographical locations makes the application process discriminatory and restricts freedom of establishment.
Zimbabwe ranks 127th out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index. The index notes the use of security persons in the intimidation of journalists and the stifling of media freedom in Zimbabwe.
“While the government continues to reiterate its commitment to implement fundamental reforms since President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ascendency into office, the quality of the reforms still leaves a lot to be desired,” the Misa Zimbabwe statement said.
BAZ’ community and campus 2020 regulations state that a community radio station’s governing body must be drawn from “key interests” and that includes people from the law and order sector.
Marara said the inclusion of law and order in a community radio station is problematic.
“BAZ should set restrictions but must not prescribe who is in the structure of the governing body. Some of the people in law enforcement have played a partisan role in the past,” Marara said.
The regulations also stipulate the application fee for a community radio station license to be ZW$8 500 and if the application is successful, a community radio station would have to pay ZW$17 000 in annual licence fees.
Misa Zimbabwe said the fees of community radio licences and that of the other invited broadcasting applications are exorbitant in spite of the production costs of a radio station.
Their statement adds that this could be a technical barrier to enter the industry and that “hopefully,” the Zimbabwean government will not use the cost of establishment as a reason to register its own community radio stations in the country.
“We are happy about the upcoming establishment of community radio [...] but government should promote community development through radio and not seek to control the sector,” Marara said.