By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
21 March 2014
Press freedom campaigners say the government should put political considerations aside in the ongoing licensing impasse that is denying rural communities a chance to have their own radio stations.
Instead the government should consider the diverse interests, cultures, and voices that have a genuine need to be heard through community radio, delegates gathered at the Bulawayo Press Club heard Thursday.
Speaking at the event, veteran broadcaster Tapfuma Machakaire said the State should consider the potential of community radio initiatives to feed national, urban-based media with real-time updates on specific community events.
“Community radios are not a regime change weapon. They are a powerful development tool for marginalised groups and society as a whole,” Machakaire said.
Turning to the recent flooding crisis which left scores of Tsholotsho villagers stranded, Prince Zwide Khumalo said the effects of the disaster could have been mitigated if locals had a dedicated station they could use to raise the alarm.
Prince Khumalo said if Tsholotsho villagers had a community radio station, they would have used it as an early warning system to alert relevant bodies about the impending disaster.
“The absence of such a community-based initiative meant that when disaster hit, information flow from the suffering masses was not there.
“The government has all these systems and structures in place but the missing link is that the communication from the grassroots people that are exposed to the disaster to those supposed to provide the response and rescue systems aren’t there.
“It is for that reason that we believe community radio stations should be licensed and made an official organ to service even remote areas so that when disasters of this nature take place, they can be adequately publicised,” added Prince Khumalo, who is also the vice-chairman of umbrella group the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS).
The government recently announced plans to issue some broadcasting licences. However, campaigners say they are not holding their breaths because of the government’s reluctance to do so over the years.
Already, there are strong indications that individuals with links to the ruling ZANU PF party will get the licences ahead of communities who really need them.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, under which licensing body the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe falls, this week told a Canadian diplomat that the delay in licensing more radio stations was not his fault.
“The Minister pointed out that there were limitations to the broadcasting spectrum allocated by the International Telecommunication Union although that spectrum can multiply itself under the digitalisation era,” the State-run Herald said Friday.
But ZACRAS head Gift Mambipiri dismissed Moyo’s excuse as just one of many superficial reasons that the government gives to avoid issuing licences.
“The real reason is that politicians do not want the general population to have platforms to speak and articulate their own issues, therefore they see community radios as political inconveniences.
“This is about closing spaces that would allow alternative views to be expressed because politicians want to be the ones speaking to the people. If the lack of capacity is the issue, then they should go ahead and license the few stations that the spectrum can accommodate,” Mambipiri said.
He said Moyo’s argument was nothing more than the Minister playing politics again.
In January the broadcasting authority invited applications for 25 commercial radio licences. It remains unclear when the call will be extended to community radios.
He said the delay to liberalise the airwaves was denying the rural communities the right to enjoy freedom of the media, freedom of expression and the rights of access to information.
Regionally, Zimbabwe lags behind in the liberalisation of airwaves with countries like South Africa and Zambia already way ahead. South Africa has nearly 120 community radio stations while Zambia had its first in 1994.