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Swedish envoy decries private broadcaster blackout

Itai Mushekwe

SWEDISH ambassador to Zimbabwe, Sten Rylander, this week bemoaned the absence of private radio and television  stations as a result of government’s stringent media legislation.

Rylander was speaking on Tuesday in a televised inter

view with Supa Mandiwanzira on the programme Talking Business. 

Rylander was commenting on the economic and political relations between Sweden and Zimbabwe and ties with the European Union.

Mandiwanzira asked what Rylander made of the media situation in Zimbabwe in view of cases in Botswana “where government has practically walked into newsrooms to confiscate equipment and Mozambique where a journalist was killed while covering a corruption case involving the president’s son”.

The ambassador retorted: “You can’t compare the situation here to that of Mozambique … to that of Botswana.
It is different.

You have no private television stations; you have no private radio stations.

It is incomprehensible in today’s globalised world for a country like yours not to have alternative media areas such as broadcasting. No foreign journalist is allowed to practise in this country.” 

Deputy Information minister Bright Matonga, however, recently said government was committed to opening up the airwaves, while the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) would be summoned to explain why it has failed to issue licences to private players in the sector.

Former Information minister Jonathan Moyo dealt private broadcasting a major blow four years ago when he spearheaded the enactment of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) of 2001.

The Act provides for the establishment of a statutory body — BAZ — mandated to regulate and issue licences to broadcasting players.

Board members of the authority are hand-picked by the Information minister.

First to feel the pinch was Joy TV, which had become a fierce competitor of ZTV. Joy got the boot on  May 31 2002 after ZBC refused to renew its contract to lease the country’s second television station.

The station had also unsettled government through news programmes such as the BBC, which was critical of President Robert Mugabe’s policies. 

BAZ last year refused to issue a commercial television licence to Munhumutapa African Broadcasting Corporation (MABC).

The government regulatory body wrote to MABC to inform the broadcasting aspirants that their application had failed, thus making ZTV the only free-to-air television station in the country.

BAZ said the MABC application could not succeed because it had failed to demonstrate that it had the financial resources to operate a television station.

The broadcasting authority also ruled that MABC should not be issued with a licence because it owed the then Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation an undisclosed amount of money.

MABC flirted with broadcasting in the late 1990s when it bought capacity from the ZBC to air its programmes. The station was eventually switched off after ZBC alleged that MABC was failing to pay it.

On the private radio station front, government has also gone all out to muzzle prospective aspirants. Stations such as Capital Radio, the country’s first independent radio station, was shut down, while their equipment was confiscated by the police.

Radio Dialogue, a community radio initiative in Bulawayo has also been barred from going on air while another radio station, Voice of the People, is not allowed to broadcast locally.

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