Zimbabwe: BAZ rejects licence applications

Regulation & Policy

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) has turned down five applications from aspiring broadcasters in the last decade for what the authority called failure to meet its licensing requirements.

According to a report tabled in the House of Assembly by Media, Information and Communication Technology portfolio committee chairman Seiso Moyo, the stringent requirements Baz has attached to the granting of new broadcasting licences means that liberalisation of the airwaves remains a pipe dream.

The report comes at a time when the limping coalition government claims to be in the process of democraticising the electronic media, presently monopolised by the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.

"The (Baz) chief executive officer indicated that the authority had invited applications in 2002 and those that responded could not meet the stipulated requirements," reads the report.

The authority received five applications for commercial broadcasting licences out of the 15 that it advertised in 2004. However, all the applications, four for radio and one for television, were rejected.

The 15 licences were for provincial commercial radio stations and one national free to air television station. Potential new players told the committee they suspected that Baz was deliberately blocking new entrants into the field. "The licensing criteria have been regarded by the media fraternity as highly prohibitive and they suspect it is deliberate to maintain the status quo," says the report.

The Broadcasting Services Act of 2007 prohibits any individual or corporate to hold more than 10% of shares in any company seeking a broadcasting licence. In other words, an applicant for a broadcasting licence should have a minimum of 10 shareholders.

The Act further prohibits a holder of a broadcasting licence from applying for a signal carrier licence. This means all broadcasters would have to rely on the state-owned Transmedia for their signal.

This would force all new entrants to purchase broadcasting equipment which conforms to Transmedia's analogue transmitters. ZBH uses analogue technology after a failed attempt to migrate to digital transmission through Iranian funding and technology.

Baz indicated that all licences are renewable and valid for two years. No foreigners are allowed to work or assist in the operations of any new licensed broadcaster.

Recently, the authority flighted two adverts for commercial radio licences, although in reality only one is available since the ZBH has already secured the other.

"For commercial radio, the frequency has a capacity for six radio licences and five were allocated to ZBC for Radio Zimbabwe, Power FM, Spot FM, National FM and Voice of Zimbabwe, leaving one for new players," the parliamentary report said.

The report indicated that most Zimbabweans shunned the local broadcaster's "biased" programming in favour of the free-to-air digital satellite stations. "The public lamented lack of consultation on programmes aired by the public broadcaster and as a result many viewers have opted for satellite dishes and shun ZTV."

The committee recommended that the "ZBC editorial policy should be reviewed to remove the perceived propaganda bias" and indicated that licensing of community radio stations was long overdue and had to be expedited.