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Civil Society Groups Condemn Zimbabwe’s Stranglehold on BroadcastingPosted by: admin on Mon, 2011-03-14 11:50
The latest demand for Zimbabwe to open its airwaves comes from a coalition of civil society groups. Meanwhile, the MDC hurls charges of politically biased programming at the state-controlled broadcaster, ZBC.
Harare, Zimbabwe – Civil society organizations in Zimbabwe are continuing to demand that the government open the country’s airwaves. At the same time, ZANU PF-controlled state broadcaster is being accused of airing politically biased programming.
The opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), through its spokesperson Nelson Chamisa, has written to the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) asking that the state broadcaster stop criticizing party officials. “We wish to place on record what appears to be your insatiable, but wholly unhelpful desire to perpetuate the selective vilification of senior MDC officials and cabinet ministers to whom you rarely accord space and airtime,” reads part of Chamisa’s recent letter of complaint to Happison Muchechetere, the ZBC’s chief executive.
The biased programming that the MDC is objecting to includes newscasts, which accuse the MDC of promoting Western countries’ agenda for regime change and live programs in which commentators and guests denigrate the MDC and its officials. The MDC is also complaining about newscasts that belittle MDC Chairman Morgan Tsvangirai, portraying him as a sell-out advocating for the imposition of sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle.
It is because of complaints like this that a wide spectrum of groups, from the SADC to independent media advocates around the world, have been clamoring for President Robert Mugabe’s coalition government to grant licenses to a diverse group of media organizations. The latest demand for inclusion comes from a nonpartisan “collective of nongovernmental organizations” who released a report earlier this month criticizing the government for failing to license new private radio and television stations.
Report chastises broken regulatory structure
The report released by the NGO group, known as the Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism, is based on a broad review of the coalition government currently running Zimbabwe and covering the period February 2010 to February 2011. Participating nongovernmental organizations include the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
The CISSOM report condemns the status of the radio and TV sector. It accuses public broadcasters of “aggressively” promoting the ZANU PF and “presenting biased coverage of national events.” Further, the report declares that the BAZ has failed in its mandate. “The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) failed …. To invite applications for licenses for community radios.”
CISSOM calls for the immediate reconstitution of the BAZ board to enable it to effectively carry out its mandate. “The inclusive government should thus revisit the outstanding issue pertaining to the reconstitution of the BAZ board which will then be tasked with licensing new private television and radio stations,” states the report.
The report notes that the broadcasting regulatory framework, the Broadcasting Services Act, “has serious defects and flaws” which fall short of meeting regional and international benchmarks pertaining to the regulation and management of the broadcasting sector. This, the CISSOMM review report notes, impacts the “right and enjoyment of freedom of expression, press freedom, and access to information.”
Data released by the International Telecommunications Union show that Zimbabwe has the capacity to register 56 district (community) radio stations, 31 commercial radio stations, three national television stations and two national commercial FM radio stations. This is based on South Africa’s LS South Africa Radio Communications data which shows that Zimbabwe has a total FM frequency allocation of 189 and analogue TV allocation of 200 and this. The CISSOMM report says this is the “capacity” where the above mentioned community, commercial radio and television stations will operate.
Government refusing to license private broadcasters
The NGOs observe in their report that the government is reluctant to “free the airwaves” and that this has been “amply demonstrated” by George Charamba, the permanent secretary in the information ministry. Charamba “dashed any hopes for immediate broadcasting reforms” after he told the parliamentary portfolio committee on media, information and technologies last year that “no new private players would be licensed soon.” He is reported to have said that the government does not presently have the ability to monitor and regulate the activities of new private players.
The CISSOMM report comes against the backdrop of a call by the BAZ for applications for web-casting, “rail” casting [radio and TV on trains] and other broadcasting types meant for smaller audiences.
The call for applications, however, did not include a call for applications for community radio and televisions or for commercial broadcasting services. This has attracted the ire of media activists and practitioners in the country, who are echoing the CISSOM demand that BAZ be reconstituted to ensure that it effectively carries out its mandate.
“We will be marching in central Harare next month, demanding that companies be allowed to offer commercial and community broadcasting services. We have hundreds and hundreds of broadcasters who are jobless and there are companies that are willing to take up broadcasting projects but how can they do so when the airwaves are closed,” said a leader of a civic organization that is planning demonstrations protests next month. Given the risk of being targeted in the crackdown that the Zimbabwe government has embarked on against protest demonstrators, he demanded that his name be protected.
Tawanda Karombo is a freelance journalist living in Zimbabwe, covering southern Africa. He can be reached at email@example.com .
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