BAZ invites applicants for radio licences for urban centres

Regulation & Policy

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) has invited applications for 14 commercial radio licences, to be dotted around the country’s major urban centres.

The 14 local FM licences will be in addition to the two national commercial broadcasting licences that were recently granted to ZiFM, controlled by AB Communications headed by broadcaster Supa Mandiwanzira, and Talk Radio channel to be run by Zimpapers, publishers of the Herald.

Givemore Chipere, communication and advocacy officer for Community Radio Harare (CORAH), told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday they were surprised to see BAZ inviting application for local commercial licences.

Chipere said the application fee and radio broadcasting service license cost of US$2,500 and US$7,500 ‘is too much for would be broadcasters in Zimbabwe.’ The basic license fee is also expensive at US$50,000.

CORAH is an independent radio initiative based in Harare. But its biggest obstacle remains the fact that the government will not grant it, or any other community station, a broadcast license.

‘CORAH is one of 10 community radio initiatives operating in Zimbabwe. The others are in Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, Hwange, Kariba, Masvingo, Mutare and Kadoma. All these community radio projects are just waiting to be granted a licence from BAZ and we can start broadcasting by Friday.

‘But this new process will take time, even a year, and its just a gimmick to hoodwink SADC into believing there are media reforms in Zimbabwe when there is nothing,’ Chipere said.

The BAZ offer for 14 local broadcasting licenses covers Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru, Masvingo, Chinhoyi, Bindura, Gwanda, Marondera, Lupane, Plumtree, Kariba, Victoria Falls and Beitbridge. Some of these areas are regarded as pro-MDC areas and are areas where the ZBC radio and television signal is very weak.

Veteran and popular radio DJ, Ezra ‘Tshisa’ Sibanda, said the plan to operate radio stations in the MDC controlled towns is a ZANU PF strategy to try and penetrate the areas.

‘It’s clear the licenses will be granted to ZANU PF people who will use the stations to prop up their propaganda. We all know what happened with the two national commercial radio stations and that will also happen with local station,’ Sibanda said.

Many observers have also noted that it would be impossible to run a commercial radio initiative in most of the areas on offer. Commercial radio depends on advertisers for its revenue and in Lupane or Marondera for instance, it would be impossible to find enough advertising to fund a radio station.

Meanwhile, BAZ has also called for applications for licenses for free to air satellite usage. The wording of the BAZ advert is so complicated that no one seems to know what it really means: “Meanwhile, the “Content Distribution Service” applies to service provided by a content distributor comprising content aggregated within or outside Zimbabwe that is made available in Zimbabwe with or without payment of a subscription fee and the reception is through satellite transmission.”

There are radio stations broadcasting on satellite, for which you need a satellite receive. Many people in Zimbabwe now also have free to air television satellite reception. You can also receive various radio stations on this TV satellite transmission.

Analysts are assuming that BAZ is trying to stop any Zimbabwean initiative from broadcasting a radio service in any form, including on a TV satellite channel, unless they have a license. This license would be even more costly than the FM channels at US$100,000.