Charles Mabhena

Addressing the media practitioners during a reception held by his ministry for the industry, Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Dr Christopher Mushowe said the government was committed to ensure media pluralism.

He said the government was concerned to offering its citizen diverse choices in terms of broadcasting services.

“As the industry gets truly plural, and with coming on stream of Digital Terrestrial Television services, our expectations is that viewers will not just be spoilt for choice, but will begin to access more affordable services,” he said.

Mushowe bemoaned the slow pace by which the newly licensed players are taking off, saying that is compromising the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ)’s ability to call for new applications.

The minister’s calls comes at a time the government was being lambasted for not willing to open the airwaves.

According Amnesty International (AI), the media environment in Zimbabwe was crafted in a way that suppresses media pluralism, as there is no freedom of expression in the country.

AI says this is evidenced by the bias exhibited in the issuance of broadcasting licenses. By 2015 only 10 broadcasting licensed had been issued, two of these are national commercial stations, with 8 being local commercial stations.

On the contrary to the government’s purported willingness to ensure media pluralism, as claimed by Mushowe, all the 10 licenses were issued to 5 companies that state owned or controlled by individuals who are closely associated to ZANU-PF.

By licensing private companies with links to the ruling party, ZANU PF did it deliberately so that it portrays a distorted picture to the outside world, that it is committed to ensuring media diversity, when in actual fact it is the party that calls the shots in what is to be produced and influence editorial content.

AI notes that ZANU PF fears that by licensing independent players, radio broadcasting licenses may land in the hands of their political opponents, thereby giving them a voice and platform to reach out to the masses.

As a way to further bottleneck the system, BAZ set license fees that are said to be exorbitant.

In order to be licensed a community radio initiative must first pay a non-refundable application fee of US$500, when granted the license the station must pay the annual basic license fee of US$1000 for 10 years, and a frequency fee of US$30/ monthly.

AI claims these fees are prohibitive for the resource poor communities, meaning only those linked to the government or ruling party will be the beneficiaries, and a means to curb media independence.

To create an enabling environment, AI urges for the need for an independent regulator, as BAZ has proved to be bias and have not shown clear interest in supporting communities to enjoy their right to freedom of expression.

On funding models Zimbabwe that can ensure sustainability of community radios, without compromising editorial independence from funders, it has been suggested that the fees by BAZ be revised downwards.

In other African states, mix of grants and advertising revenue has ensured the survival of community radios.

Zimbabwe can borrow from such models and even improve them with all stakeholders including government taking part in creative funding models that also guarantees editorial independence, and safeguard community controls over the stations.