Zimbabwe: Broadcasting Authority offers two commercial radio licenses

Regulation & Policy

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) called for applications for two commercial radio licenses in an advert in the state run Herald newspaper. A number of media groups described it as nothing more than a political ploy by the Mugabe regime, who wants to deflect criticism at next month's SADC summit on Zimbabwe. The SADC approved election roadmap states that a new board should be appointed for the Broadcasting Authority and new broadcasters should be licensed. But the media groups said the radio license offer also disregards a section of the GPA and agreements made by negotiating teams from the 3 political parties.

The licenses offered would run for 10 years and there is an application fee of $2500. There are also annual fees of $15,000 plus 1 percent of the gross annual turnover and $7500 in public consultation fees. Other miscellaneous fees will also be charged and the application deadline is June 30th.

The composition of the BAZ board, headed by former Media, Information and Communication Minister Tafataona Mahoso, has been a contentious issue for years now. Stalwart ZANU PF supporters were appointed to the board, without consultation, in 2009.

Patience Zirima, coordinator of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, welcomed the potential addition of two new "radio players" but said the group had serious concerns. "The BAZ board is still under dispute and we are not sure under what legal basis they are offering licenses. We need this clarified," Zirima said.

She added: "What we want is a total liberation of the airwaves as is required by section 19 of the GPA, which says the unity government would free the airwaves so citizens can enjoy the right to freedom of speech."

Zirima also criticized the state run ZBC radio for increasing the percentage of ZANU PF jingles and hate speech being broadcast. She said no other political party has been given the same space to broadcast their views.

Loughty Dube, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa- Zimbabwe (MISA), dismissed the call for applications for licenses as just a ZANU PF ploy. He said they want to appear as though they are meeting the demands of the GPA, ahead of the regional summit next month.

"The issue of media reforms is on the GPA agenda and ZANU PF wants to look like they have made progress", Dube said, adding: "But Mahoso's views on freedom of speech are well known. He is against opening up the media."

Dube explained that it would have been "prudent" to license community radio stations first because they are less expensive to establish and some are ready to start broadcasting in Zimbabwe. He said commercial radio should be the last level to receive licenses and the first thing that should happen is to transform the ZBC into a true public broadcaster. "ZANU PF jingles still dominate ZBC," said Dube.

SW Radio Africa correspondent Simon Muchemwa said BAZ chairman Mahoso appeared on the state run ZTV offering the licenses and the issue has caused much debate in the capital. "The talk is that the fees are exorbitant and the government knows no-one can raise that amount by June 30. They also know that radio would reach the majority of Zimbabweans and they don't want that," Muchemwa said.

Muchema said there is no media freedom in a country where newspaper vendors still get attacked and journalists are harassed by the authorities over their stories.