MISA-Zimbabwe has noted with disappointment continued delays in licensing of community broadcasters by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ).
In an interview with ZiFM stereo broadcast 25 August 2014, BAZ chairperson Tafataona Mahoso stated that the licensing of community broadcasting is ‘totally dependent’ on government providing infrastructure for them in the country.
Mahoso’s statement comes after repeated pledges by the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting services to facilitate the licensing of community radios by the end of year.
While it is crucial that government provides the requisite transmission infrastructure for the licensing of community radios, MISA-Zimbabwe is concerned that the authorities have repeatedly used this and similar other excuses to delay the licensing process. This has as a result delayed the realisation of a fully functional three tier broadcasting system as prescribed by law.
Even though Mahoso has attributed the delay to lack of government funding, there is no evidence that his board is prepared to license community radio as soon as transmission infrastructural development resources are made available. For example, the regulatory body is yet to publicise the procedure for application and selection criteria for aspiring applicants. Neither have details of the available frequency spectrum for community radios and where they will located, been made public.
It is in this light that MISA-Zimbabwe calls for substantive action by the relevant authorities to ensure the urgent licensing of community radios to allow for those many communities that are prepared to establish their own community radio stations. This should done under a reformed broadcasting legislative framework that allows for fair, open and transparent licensing procedures. Any further delays will impinge on citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information through a media of their choice as guaranteed in the constitution.
Meanwhile, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) officials have extended for one year the rollout period for 42 prospective broadcasters who have failed to meet the deadline for going on air.
Out of 50 applicants who obtained their broadcasting licenses in September 2013, 22 radio stations and 20 television stations have yet to start operating.
MACRA has given eight months to the prospective radio stations to rollout their services and 12 months to the television stations from the day the license was published, failing which the authority can revoke the license.
MACRA’s spokesperson Clara Mulonya says the decision to grant an extension comes after the authority’s board members accepted requests from the operators to extend the period due to technical and financial challenges they are experiencing related to the rollout.
“Most of the broadcasters in their request for an extension are citing internal delays to procure equipment and lack of funds due to donor fatigue for donor sponsored stations,” she said.
Nevertheless, she commented that it appears astonishing for applicants who have been awarded broadcasting licenses to say they have no funds to finance such a project, when they had shown all the proof that they had financial muscle to run such a broadcasting station.
Mulonya says the broadcasters who are awarded licenses and fail to carry through, misuse an opportunity that some applicants who are not lucky in the bidding process could gladly use.
“The bottom line therefore is that applicants have to be honest with themselves on their source of funds to run a radio or television station,” she said. “It is advisable that if an individual is not financially or technically ready to open a broadcasting station, they should not apply for such services until they have sufficient financing.”
Mulonya explained that there may be yet another chance of further extension for broadcasters who will still be unable rollout by the end of extended period before they revoke the licenses.
“I would say that the possibility to further extend the period depends on the reasons given by the licensee for another extension. For example if the person failed due to circumstances beyond his or her control, and that they are ready to rollout the service after the having the second extension then we would consider the possibility,” she said.
Mulonya has dismissed fears from new applicants that the extension would delay the issuing of new licenses. “The extension cannot affect issuance of new licenses. We will go ahead and issue them as long as there is demand on the market,” she concluded.