Scepticism over plans to license 25 radio stations

via Scepticism over plans to license 25 radio stations – DailyNews Live by Maxwell Sibanda  20 JANUARY 2014

Government’s plans to license 25 new radio stations within the next two months has been received with scepticism.

George Charamba, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary told a parliamentary portfolio committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services last week that the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) was in the process of short-listing candidates.

He said Zimbabwe plans to license 25 new radio stations in the next two months if it can afford to.

But many are suspicious of government’s intentions given that in the past it only issued radio stations to those close to the system.

Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said while Charamba has been quoted saying in the next two months his government will license 25 radio stations, he has his doubts.

“Given the history that we know, Charamba is a thriving extension of Zanu PF hegemony of polity, so what has triggered Mugabe to expose his party and government to scrutiny?” Ngwenya said.

“My take is that following his controversial electoral victory, he will issue licences in order to smokescreen his illegitimacy.

“Pretty soon, Mugabe will be heading Sadc, so he might want to show his reformative side. Mind you, the succession wars in Zanu PF that have seen casualties at the Herald, ZBC and other parastatals might be manifesting themselves in this desire for perceived legitimacy,” said Ngwenya.

“My position is that nothing has changed in the Zanu PF DNA of cronyism, corruption and selective application of laws.

“Charamba will perpetuate the political dominance of Zanu PF’s propaganda machinery in provinces they consider their strongholds. In other words, I do not see Radio VoP being issued a licence in Mashonaland Central.

“Like last time, patronage will be the single most important criteria for licensing. They will pretend to ‘assess’ applications, but will still insist that local shareholding, source of funds, ideology and patriotism are necessary features for ‘successful’ applicants.

“My submission is that in a free market democracy, anyone who can prove that they have the finance, staff to run a radio station and a sustainable business plan must carry the day. The market will determine success or failure, not some overzealous Zanu PF bureaucratic submerged in a political prism.”

He said in the interest of multiplicity and diversity, provinces with the densest populations must be given more licenses.

“Those who argue for ‘fair distribution in rural areas’ are not making business sense. Besides, if ZBC, ZiFM and Star FM want to have a competitive edge, they can still ‘beat’ prospective licencees by strengthening their market presence in rural areas.”

Takura Zhangazha, former Misa-Zimbabwe and Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) director and analyst with Tendwandiani Knowledge Cooperative, believes government will finally give the licences for now.

“They have nothing to lose,” Zhangazha said.

“But again it will be controversial with accusations of bias and partisanship in the awarding of licences.”

Media activist Tabani Moyo said Zimbabweans prefer a situation whereby the government firstly comes out in the open on the amount of spectrum which Baz is sitting on.

“Secondly and most pressing is the imperative need to transform Baz from its current politicised composition towards an Independent Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (IBAZ) which is answerable to the Parliament of Zimbabwe and representative to the diverse tastes of the peoples of Zimbabwe,” Moyo said.

He said with the current spectrum, there was capacity for more than 52 community radio licences which entails each district having access to its own station.

“If we migrate (from analogue to digital), the space will push the boundaries of regulation so to speak,” Moyo said.

“If you distribute it by province, you are setting up the commercial stations for failure because they won’t sustain them in the small towns given the aggregate revenue basket for advertising which is small in towns outside Harare and Bulawayo.”

He said the criteria for licensing must firstly focus on the community radio regimes which will revolutionarise the access to information drive as communities will be given a voice to speak on the issues affecting them for informed decision-making.

“The question is not on Transmedia being ready, it is about the political attitude because once its corrected then it is easy to move,” Moyo said.

“As the situation is, if we proceed to issue out the licences without the repeal or extensive amendment of the BSA and subsequent transformation of the Baz into an IBAZ, then history is going to repeat itself.

“In essence the whole process is being hurried as a smokescreen aimed at hoodwinking Sadc that we are opening up the broadcasting sector as we prepare to assume the chairperson role of the regional bloc.”

Rashweat Mukundu, another media analyst, said licensing of radio stations was generally determined by the number of frequencies available and also should take into account regional balance.

“This process should be done transparently so that there is public confidence as well as buy-in and support by target communities,” Mukundu said.

“In this regard, the licensing of the 25 stations is a welcome move though there are concerns on the opaque manner in the operations of the licensing authority, Baz.

“Baz is still lacking independence hence its decisions are directed from Munhumutapa Building (the citadel of government power).”

He said in this instance, whoever gets licensed will likely be in good books with Munhumutapa and not necessarily have the merits to be licensed.

“Broadcasting licensing must be done by an independent body outside political control so that there is confidence in the process,” Mukundu said.

“Unfortunately this is not the case with Baz. What we are seeing is rather a chaotic opening of the media space without clarity on the developmental objectives nor respect for transparency.”

Pan Africanist Thomas Deve said he was under the impression that they were already allocating the licences because they “put out the number of applicants already and broke it down province by province.

“And we will need to go back to the call for applications so that we respond to a criterion that was sent out.”