By Professor Matodzi
Harare, July 24, 2016 – INFORMATION, Communication and Technology and Courier Services Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira has embarrassed the Tafataona Mahoso led Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) by failing to set up his radio station 16 months after his company was preferred ahead of other prospective broadcasters to establish radio stations.
Mandiwanzira, a Zanu PF MP for Nyanga, together with other current and prospective broadcasters, were in 2015 granted commercial licences to set up radio stations to service eight urban centres in the country.
The choice of licence recipients was widely felt to have been influenced by their links to the ruling Zanu PF party which has kept a tight grip on broadcasting services in the country since independence in 1980.
Mandiwanzira’s AB Communications which was granted two licences to service Gweru and Masvingo when the journalist-turned politician was already serving as Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister which superintends over BAZ’s operations.
His company joins 2 other firms which were each granted 2 licences each and have all failed to start broadcasting.
Except for ZimPapers’ Diamond FM in Mutare and YaFM in Zvishavane, all the other licence holders have failed to hit the airwaves, spotlighting on BAZ’s impartiality and capabilities to identify companies capable of running viable radio stations.
Mandiwanzira, owner of ZiFM Stereo, is already struggling to keep the Harare based station viable amid tough competition from other radio stations.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe) has said the failure by the licenced companies to set up stations spotlighted on government’s biased issuing of licences.
“Failure by those that were licensed to go on air does not only point to harsh economic conditions, but flawed licensing regime and processes, which are vulnerable to political manipulation and used to seemingly grant licenses on the basis of political disposition and not merit,” Misa said in a statement.
“The controversy that surrounded the licensing of all private radio stations, which are either run by government-controlled entities or proxies of the ruling elite, underscores this view.”
Current Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister, Chris Mushohwe this past week said the government will no longer issue any more licences following the failure by the 6 firms to start broadcasting.
His statement was strongly rebuked by local broadcasting lobby groups which said the Zanu PF minister was “frivolous”.
The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) condemned Mushohwe for allegedly working against the spirit of broadcasting diversity and pluralism.
“While it is regrettable that the local commercial radio stations which were licenced three years ago have struggled to utilise the licences owing to a number of reasons, it cannot be a good reason for the government of Zimbabwe to then worsen the situation by suspending licensing,” said the group in a statement.
“It is ZACRAS view that instead of suspending licensing, the government must play an enabler role of assisting the stations by creating a conducive environment where new stations can sustain and serve their communities.
By suspending the issuance of all licences including those of community stations which do not require any adverts to sustain their operations, ZACRAS said Mushohwe was also in violation of the constitution of Zimbabwe sections 61 and 62 which provide for free access to information and freedom of expression.