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‘Zim can have more radio, TV stations’

ZIMBABWE has enough frequencies to licence more radio and television stations despite assertions by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) and Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) that the frequency spectrum is fully utilised.

Report by Brian Chitemba

The Media and Technology Trust (MTT), a local advocacy group for media freedom and access to information, says since the analogue system is not yet fully utilised, the country could capitalise on the usage of the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) instead of Very High Frequency (VHF) which has a narrow bandwidth and shorter wavelength.

MTT accuses Potraz of deliberately choosing the VHF which has a coverage radius of a mere 70km instead of the UHF with a bigger spectrum and coverage radius of 120km.

While Potraz says the frequency spectrum is full, MTT argues that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) surrendered band one (channel 3-4) which used to carry TV1, and this could be used by community broadcasters as it is still vacant.

MTT says Potraz’s deliberate under-estimation of the frequency spectrum was in contravention of local, regional and international charters that promote media freedom and access to information.

These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Windhoek Declaration, African Charter on Broadcasting, Banjul Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, Article 19 of the Global Political Agreement, Broadcasting Services Act and the new constitution.

The licencing of more radio and television stations is being lobbied for by the MDC formations in the inclusive government, civil society organisations and media bodies as part of media reforms. The appointment of Baz board members is also a bone of contention in the shaky coalition government whose tenure is almost up.

Zimbabwe experienced television broadcasting in the mid-1960s, while South Africa followed in the late 1970s, but the neighbouring country is now leading because it chose UHF.

“The argument by Baz that it can only provide a three–tier system of broadcasting in Zimbabwe when the country has digitised is a clear deception by a partisan-constituted and run board as digitisation is not an overnight affair,” says MTT.

“This process requires huge capital investment which Zimbabwe does not have at the moment. This money is required for awareness raising purposes, buying digital ready transmitters, paying the persons assisting with technical expertise as well as ensuring the availability of set-top boxes.

“To this end, MTT’s evaluation of the whole digitisation process progress points to the fact that Zimbabwe will be nowhere near meeting the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) deadline of 2015 even if a new and competent government comes into office after the coming elections because our economy is in a very serious precipice.”

MTT adds that the country does not have resources for digitisation, hence it should fully utilise the analogue system since it has the capacity to accommodate the three-tier system of broadcasting without much investment.

The switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting, MTT says, could be done in phases, while the nation accesses broadcast news which is cheaper and widely accessible.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai recently toured Sadc, lobbying regional leaders to push President Robert Mugabe to free the airwaves and end the ZBC monopoly as part of minimum conditions for free and fair elections.

The public media stands accused of being Zanu PF propaganda mouthpieces.

Freeing of the airwaves, the MTT says, was critical especially in an election cycle — pre–election, during voting and post-election — to enable the electorate to make informed electoral choices.

The latest experience in Kenya where the people went to the polls well-informed by a three-tier system of broadcasting is a clear example to emulate, according to MTT.

“We are further awake to the seemingly limited time to implement the issue before elections are held. We, therefore, submit that no time is limited for ready-to-broadcast firms, particularly those that were dubiously denied registration last time, such as KissFM and Voice of the People (VoP),” says MTT.

“It is our reliably informed submission that these companies are ready to broadcast anytime they are given licences. This also applies to already established community radio stations such as Radio Dialogue, Community Radio Harare, Kumakomo, Wezhira and Kwelas, among others, as well as 15 radio stations all working in collaboration with Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations and Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter, respectively.

Government recently licensed two Zanu PF-linked radio stations, Star FM and ZiFM.

“Liberalised airwaves are therefore capable of producing programmes that discourage voter apathy. Liberalised airwaves can make an informed electorate,” MTT says.

MTT further notes 84% tele-density offered opportunities to the majority of community dwellers to participate in national discussions through phone-in programmes and social media platforms, hence encouraging popular participation of citizens on issues affecting them.

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