- The government believes by licensing new radio stations it would render channels run by exiled Zimbabwe journalists unnecessary
- Zimbabwe first awarded radio commercial licenses in 2011 but the process was heavily criticise
Zimbabwe is preparing to license at least 25 commercial radio stations amid indications President Robert Mugabe’s new government is now ready to liberalise the airwaves.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) said it was re-opening the process after a call for applications last year received a poor response.
Professor Jonathan Moyo, the new Information Minister has of late spoken about the need to open up the airwaves by licensing private players. The government believes by licensing new radio stations it would render channels run by exiled Zimbabwe journalists in the United States, Britain and South Africa unnecessary.
BAZ said in a statement that approved applicants will be able to start broadcasting in the country’s major cities and towns next year after paying 50,000 U.S. dollars for a 10-year license plus nearly another 10,000 dollars for market entry. The applicants, however, should not be funded in any way by foreigners, and domestic political parties are barred from applying for the licenses.
“This re-invitation is due to poor response following the initial call for 14 areas, which closed in February 2012, and failure by most applicants to meet the qualification criteria,” said BAZ chief executive office Obert Maganyura.
“BAZ will be issuing a guideline on the qualification criteria in order to assist the applicants in meeting the qualification requirements as provided in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act.”
ZiFM Stereo was one those awarded broadcasting licences in 2011 and its owner Supa Mandiwanzira is now deputy minister in the ministry handling decision on who gets a licence. There have been allegations that Zanu PF is awarding licences to sympathisers so that the grip on airwaves continues.
Zimbabwe first awarded radio commercial licenses in 2011 but the process was heavily criticised as it only benefited a state owned publishing house and a politician from President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.
The opening up of airwaves came after the veteran ruler entered into a unity government with his rivals that ended in July this year.
However, the government was criticised for the slow pace of media reforms with Zanu PF maintaining a tight grip on the state broadcaster.
At the weekend, Prof Moyo said the government would repeal defamation laws that had seen a number of journalists from the private media being arrested following pressure from politicians.
“I honestly believe that the time has come to remove criminal defamation from our system of justice in the national interest,” he said.
“As a ministry that oversees the media industry which is the most affected by criminal defamation, we are persuaded and therefore convinced that the days of having criminal defamation in our statutes now lie in the past.
“Indeed, and although we are not the authority with the power to interpret the law, we nevertheless believe that the constitutionality of criminal defamation under our country’s new constitutional dispensation is questionable, especially given the inherent vagueness of the criteria which are supposed to be used to decide whether the defamation was sufficiently serious to justify the invocation of the criminal sanction.”
Media laws in Zimbabwe are particularly restrictive and only started allowing major foreign news outlets such as the BBC and CNN to start operating from the country after the formation of the inclusive government in 2009.
Zimbabwe currently has only five local radio stations, mostly state-owned, and the government has been confiscating radios used to listen to foreign “pirate stations” which the authorities consider harbour “regime change” agenda.
Source-The Daily Nation