New ZANU FM licences must be scrapped

The award of commercial broadcast licenses to two Zimbabwean entities is a historic first in the country’s broadcasting history. Unfortunately, the fact that the two organisations have a symbiotic relationship with President Mugabe's ZANU (PF) sends a clear signal that the party has no intention of relinquishing control of the airwaves any time soon. Clause V(1) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa says “States shall encourage a diverse, independent private broadcasting sector.

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Strategic communications for WWF

November 27th, 2011

The award of commercial broadcast licenses to two Zimbabwean entities is a historic first in the country’s broadcasting history. Unfortunately, the fact that the two organisations have a symbiotic relationship with President Mugabe's ZANU (PF) sends a clear signal that the party has no intention of relinquishing control of the airwaves any time soon. Clause V(1) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa says “States shall encourage a diverse, independent private broadcasting sector. A state monopoly over broadcasting is not compatible with the right to freedom of expression”.It has taken over 11 years for the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) to award new broadcasting licences.  It has been a long a frustrating wait whose outcome is equally disappointing. The expectations of most Zimbabweans were that the Global Political Agreement (GPA) would provide an opportunity for establishing independent institutions that would oversee Zimbabwe’s transition to a democracy.  The GPA has turned out to be a marriage of convenience that cannot be consummated and has been characterized by phantom pregnancies that give birth to nothing.  While the GPA has long been considered one of the worst drafted legal documents, the preamble to Article 19 of the Agreement that talks about the freedom of expression and communication is a classic example:“Recognising the importance of the right to freedom of expression and the role of the media in a multi-party democracy. Noting that while the provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act permit the issuance of licences, no licences other than to the public broadcaster have been issued. Aware of the emergence of foreign based radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe, some of which are funded by foreign governments. Concerned that the failure to issue licences under the Broadcasting Services Act to alternative broadcasters might have given rise to external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe. Further concerned that foreign government funded external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe are not in Zimbabwe's national interest. Desirous of ensuring the opening up of the air waves and ensuring the operation of as many media houses as possible. “On 30 September 2009, the Media Information and Publicity Minister, Webster Shamu of ZANU (PF) announced the appointment of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) to be chaired by Dr. Tafataona Mahoso.  Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai immediately denounced the appointments as invalid and that the matter would be revisited.  Up to now we patiently await that revisit.  The appointment of Dr. Mahoso was astounding because using the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) he had ordered the closure of independent newspapers when he was head of the former Media Information Commission.It is clear that Zimbabwe’s sole broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), has been subverted to be a ZANU PF propaganda machine much to the detriment of open and honest dialogue about national issues.  ZBC treats the majority of Zimbabwean citizens with disdain by subjecting them to sycophantic praise singing and outright lies. On assuming power in 1980, the ZANU PF government inherited the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) that was to become the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).  The 1957 Broadcasting Act was kept in place guaranteeing state monopoly over broadcasting.  Previous colonial and white minority governments used the RBC as an effective tool to propagate their aims and keep subjects in their place as subjects.  The ZANU PF government was to do the same with ZBC.Section 28 and 28(1) of the 1957 Broadcasting Act as amended in 1974 reads:“No person other than the Corporation shall carry on a broadcasting service in the country.  No person other than the Corporation ….. shall operate a diffusion service …. otherwise than in accordance with the approval of the Minister or other consultation with the Posts Corporation.”Following a legal challenge in 2000 by a private company, Capital Radio, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court declared state broadcasting monopoly unconstitutional and ordered government to formally end its monopoly by amending the law.  In response the government hurriedly drafted the Broadcasting Services Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Bill, which became law in 2001.  Not a single broadcaster had been licensed until now.  This state of affairs forced a number of broadcasters to broadcast from outside the country.  The transitional government needs to do the right thing that is to nullify and void the award of the two licenses, and properly constitute a new BAZ board that will oversee the award of new licenses.By Ozias Tungwarara, Director AfriMAP 

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