… concerns over partisan licensing
ZIMBABWE is set to have 25 new free-to-air commercial provincial radio stations following last week’s Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe’s (Baz) call for applications amid fears that the licences, as is allegedly the case with the two private players currently operating, may be allocated on partisan grounds.
Baz made the announcement in the Government Gazette of October 28, 2013 –– GN 511/2013 inviting applications for 25 free to air local commercial radio broadcasting services licences. Applications close on January 7, 2014.
However, there is widespread scepticism about the licensing procedures as it emerged applicants have to indicate directors and shareholders’ political affiliation in the application forms.
Question 6 and 8 on the application form specifically asks for information about the political affiliation of the directors and shareholders.
Admire Mare, a Zimbabwean media expert at Rhodes University, South Africa, said it was not proper that Baz seeks to know the political affiliation of the applicants.
“The requirement by Baz for applicants to divulge their political affiliation is very unfortunate and may further exacerbate political polarisation,” Mare said. “Political affiliation cannot be used as an excuse for awarding or withholding licences.”
Harare based analyst Jonathan Gandari concurred with Mare.
“That political affiliation question is a red flag,” Gandari said: “It predetermines the outcome of the call. If history is anything to go by, the Baz call is another pulling of wool over the eyes of Zimbabweans.”
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe director Takura Zhangazha said it remains to be seen if the new licences will bring plurality of voices to the media.
“The government has already indicated its intention to increase the players in the electronic media,” Zhangazha said. “The primary challenge however will be whether or not a quantitative increase in radio and television stations leads to media diversity or instead media monopolies.”
Mare said the country does not need only a quantitative increase of radios, but also a qualitative improvement.
“Zimbabwe urgently needs media diversity at a qualitative level, in terms of diverse opinions, diverse languages and diverse media owners to insulate us against media concentration,” Mare said.
Zimbabwe currently has six radio stations. Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings owns four while the two private stations are owned by companies with close links to Zanu PF. The two are StarFM and ZiFM Stereo owned by Zimpapers and deputy Information minister Supa Mandiwanzira respectively.