MISA-Zimbabwe has welcomed the licensing of eight urban-based commercial radio stations by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) as a development that marks the decentralisation of broadcasting in the country.
The media watchdog body said following the conducting of public hearings from August 2014 to September 2014, BAZ on 3 March 2015 announced the issuance of licences to five successful companies. These include AB Communications, which will broadcast as Gogogoi FM in Masvingo and Faya FM in Gweru, Kingstons, which will broadcast as Nyaminyami FM in Kariba and KE100.4 in Harare.
Fairtalk Communications, which will broadcast as Skyz Metro FM in Bulawayo and Breeze FM in Victoria Falls, Zimpapers’ Diamond FM in Mutare and Ray of Hope, which will broadcast as YA FM in Zvishavane, were also granted licences. This brings to 10 the total number of commercial radio stations broadcasting in the country.
MISA-Zimbabwe is however concerned that the licensing of the new stations has simply amounted to the expansion of the media that are directly under state control and associated with the ruling elite.
The majority shares in AB Communications are held by Minister of Information Communication Technologies and Courier Services Supa Mandiwanzira’s family Trust, while Zimpapers and Kingstons are under state control. Zimpapers and AB Communications already own two commercial national radio stations.
The concentration of ownership of broadcast services by the state and those linked to the ruling party betrays authorities’ drive to dominate and monopolise the broadcast media space under the guise of private ownership.
Apart from exposing the liberalisation of the airwaves as a charade, MISA-Zimbabwe says the monopolisation of ownership severely compromises Zimbabweans’ right to freely express themselves and access information through independent and diverse media platforms while ensuring they are subjected to the dominant narrative of the Zimbabwean story by state actors.
MISA-Zimbabwe also noted that of the initial 21 applicants, 18 were shortlisted for public hearings. Of the 18, six applicants failed to make it due to non -payment of the steep statutory public enquiry fee of $7 500 within the stipulated deadline period.
The application fees which amount to $10 000 inclusive of the initial $2 500 application fee are prohibitively exorbitant resulting in elitist ownership of the broadcasting sector.
For instance, application fees in South Africa are pegged at R3 000 which is about $300 and shockingly 3 233% cheaper.
As a result of such developments that MISA-Zimbabwe continues to call for a complete overhaul of the country’s broadcasting regulatory and licensing regime to ensure that citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to establish broadcast services is not hindered by undue restrictions and allow for a genuinely diverse and democratic broadcasting sector.