Commercial radio licenses – beware of wolves in sheep’s’ skins

 On 27 May 2011 the improperly constituted Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) called for applications for two free- to- air national commercial radio broadcasting services. A national free- to- air national commercial licence refers to a profit making broadcasting entity that transmits an un-encoded signal throughout Zimbabwe.

    Notwithstanding the fact that the legality of the board which called for these licenses is heavily disputed, one also needs to examine the wide reaching nature and effect of this call for licenses.

    Due to the non-transparent manner in the management of the broadcasting signal administered in this country, chances are high that the smokescreen call for the licenses will become an extension of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s monopoly.

    For example the Zimpapers stable applied for a license in line with the permanent secretary George Charamba’s advice at the organisation’s strategic retreat held in Nyanga early this year. If Zimpapers is granted the licence, it will fit well into the propaganda manufacturing mills of Zanu PF ahead of the elections which will augur well with the government’s intention to maintain state monopoly of the airwaves.

    Given that scenario the BAZ’s impartiality and sincerity will be put to severe test considering that Radio Voice of the People (VOP) which was bombed by ‘unknown persons’ on 29 August 2002, is also among the applicants for the two commercial radio licenses. As for the other applicants, it can be anybody’s guess as to who their sponsors are.

    The euphoria and excitement that accompanied the call for the applications in question might at this stage be premature.

    be wary

    On 6 July 2011, the infamous duo of Tafataona Mahoso and Obert Muganyura who are the BAZ chairperson and chief executive officer respectively, painted a misleading picture on the state of incapacity to regulate the prospective new players in the broadcasting sector.

    The duo was quizzed on why BAZ had opted for only two licenses in the category of commercial broadcasting contrary to its submissions to parliament in 2009 that the regulator was going to give priority to community radio stations. Muganyura claimed that the regulator had conducted a survey in 38 centres in Zimbabwe and that those surveyed had said BAZ should prioritise commercial radio stations ahead of community radio broadcasters.

    One can only wonder as to whether the survey was ever conducted notwithstanding the methodology that was used during the so-called survey which was conducted in a veil of secrecy.  What criterion was used in determining the 38 centers surveyed and how reflective are they in terms of the nation’s preferences?

    In the same meeting Muganyura confirmed that the country has capacity to license 56 community radio stations as per his position and plan submitted to the same Committee in 2009. Why then is Muganyura and his comrades in the Ministry of Information, permanent secretary George Charamba and Minister Webster Shamu reluctant to give the people of Zimbabwe their space to access and disseminate diverse views through their own community radio stations.

    the ruse of broadcasting and state security

    The paranoid Zanu PF personnel stationed at the Ministry of Information and those at the Zanu PF headquarters have been peddling misleading statements for too long that broadcasting is a state security concern hence the need to keep it tightly controlled as a monopoly. This is a misplaced notion because the people of Zimbabwe know better that broadcasting is a developmental agent which, if freed will positively contribute to our knowledge index and nation building.

    Jonathan Moyo, George Charamba, Webster Shamu, Tafataona Mahoso and Obert Muganyura among others of like thinking, should sober up and realize that Zimbabwe is not their private entity but it belongs to its inhabitants. To this reality, they need to wake up and smell the coffee on what’s happening elsewhere – private broadcasters and community radio stations continue to mushroom and proliferate throughout the region and Africa as a whole save for Zimbabwe and Eritrea.

    In 2008, for example, the DRC had 41 radio stations and 51 TV stations in Kinshasa alone out of a total of 381 radio stations and between 81 and 93 TV channels throughout the country. In 2006/7 Benin had 73 radio stations while Uganda has more than 120 and Mali 200. South Africa has an aggregate of more than 1000 TV and radio stations combined.

    the monitoring incapacity myth

    Muganyura argued that the regulator did not call for applications for more licenses because it does not have the capacity to monitor and control the new players in the country.

    Everyone knows that this office has become an office of excuses on why it has been failing to issue licenses for new players since 2001. However it never occurred to me that it could one day fall this low and shallow in its deceptive tendencies.

    If BAZ does not have capacity to monitor and control new players one will be quick to ask how the government managed to intercept and shut down Capitol Radio on 5 October 2000? How did the government intercept Radio VOP signals leading to the arrest of the radio station’s six trustees in 2006? It equally sobers one’s mind how the same government is intercepting and jamming external radio stations such as Voice of America’s Studio 7, SW Radio Africa and Radio VOP from broadcasting in Zimbabwe. That argument is pedestal.

    Zimbabweans are not a gullible lot. All they are asking for is their right to speak and freely express themselves thus fulfilling the founding aspirations of the liberation struggle which the current government is collectively failing to uphold.

    Tabani Moyo

    Tabani Moyo can be contacted at rebeljournalist [at] yahoo [dot] com