Government “recognizes”community radios but can’t let go of airwaves

by Divine Dube

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Christopher Mushohwe shockingly admitted that the Zimbabwe government which is adamant to licence community radios was aware that the latter exist — despite the the State’s continued monopoly on airwaves which was inherited from the Rhodesian government by Robert Mugabe’s successive governments.

“…so, please, don’t go around saying community radio broadcasters are not wanted in Zimbabwe because they are already there” Mushowe told journalists in Harare during World Radio Day commemorations.

The reluctance to free airwaves by Mugabe’s regime has been described by critics as a ploy to curtail freedom of expression and shut out possible opposition to the nonagenarian’s authoritarian rule.

Canvassed by journalists to explain why government was adamant to open up airwaves to independent players Mushowe said his ministry needed time “to do the right thing”.

“What will be the point of issuing new licences when those you had issued before are not operational?” he asked in reference to local commercial radio stations whose licences were almost cancelled by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) after they failed to broadcast on the scheduled date due to financial constraints.

Qhubani Moyo, one of the directors of Fair Talk Communications a stable whose two radio stations Skyz Metro FM and Breeze FM — failed to broadcast on time, shockingly revealed that his company forked out more than $100 000 in total to secure broadcasting rights from BAZ.

Moyo who is the Chief Executive Officer of the two radio stations said the exorbitant licence fees had crippled the stable which still had two radio stations — one in Bulawayo and another in Victoria falls — to run.

BAZ has been criticised for charging astronomical licence fees with some pundits suggesting that the move was meant to shut out independent broadcasters leaving only affiliates of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation which owns most of the broadcasting rights. But Mushowe yesterday Mushowe surprisingly professed ignorance about the exorbitant license fees.

The government’s delay in licensing community radio players has angered community media activists who believe that radio is a prerequisite for grassroots development.

”It is regrettable that no community radios have been licensed to broadcast on FM. This is despite the inherent power that community radio has in empowering citizens to be their own information producers and distributors,” the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) chairperson John Chirinda said on the eve of the World Radio Day commemorations.

But yesterday Mushohwe shot down accusations that his government was not willing to issue licences to community broadcasters.

“We have not delayed, give us time to do the right thing, he argued adding that government was now focusing on community radio licences.

“We started off with the national radio stations that we have licensed. We were waiting for some, which are yet to set up after which we will focus on community stations. In fact, there are community radio broadcasters in the country, what is left is licensing them,” he said.

ZACRAS Coordinator Vivienne Marara, said Mushowe’s statements “offensive charm” on the issue of community broadcasting which has suddenly changed from pessimistic utterances by some senior government officials indicated that the government had finally heeded a long standing community plea.

“For us its a sign that our engagement efforts have enabled government to understand the work that Zacras members are doing. Its also an indication of the positive role and contribution that community radios are doing at a local level to spur community development,” she said.

ZACRAS is a membership based organisation which advocates for community broadcasting rights in the country. Currently it has more than 15 individual community radio initiatives awaiting licensing by government.

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