Commercial is not community: The case of Diamond FM

MUTARE– As speaker after speaker acclaimed the recently licensed commercial radio station, at an alternative mining indaba, one thing was apparent they all mistook Diamond FM as a community radio station.

The commercial radio station owned by state aligned Zimbabwe Newspapers, was licensed together with 8 other commercial radio stations in 2014, ironically all these are aligned to a political system.

Ya FM is the other commercial station of the eight licensed which is operational as authorities threaten to withdraw licences for failure to broadcast.

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe licensed Ya FM, Diamond FM (operational) FAYA FM, Breeze FM, Hevoi, Skyz Metro FM, KE100.4 FM and Nyaminyami FM in 2014.

Hevoi and FAYA FM are both owned by AB Communications, a media company of ZANU PF functionary Supa Mandiwanzira, he also runs the national commercial station Zi FM

This is notwithstanding the push by local community radio stations which have not been licensed despite years of applications and supplications to the government.

Gorge Charamba permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, was recently quoted saying that there was a real risk that the licensed stations would not go live. He even admitted that government embarked on an unplanned licensing spree, albeit licensing those aligned to the status quo.

“Speaking from a policy point of view I am getting worried. The accent in the debate of broadcasting liberalisation has been breaking the jinx of monopoly which means licensing.

“Maybe recklessly we were driven by guilt and not calculation, so we went on a licensing spree. License station A, station B and station C. Now we have more licenses than we have stations,” he said.

This situation was of government’s own making, as there were community radio stations like Kumakomo Community Radio station which have been knocking on their doors for licenses.

The situation which prevailed at the Provincial Alternative Mining Indaba organised by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, is a reflection of the utopia that people in Manicaland have been steeped in.

In their reflections of the role that the media plays in the extractive industry, community members mistook Diamond FM as a community radio station when it is in actual fact a commercial radio station operating within a localised radius.

People overly celebrate the commercial radio station in the ignorance of the vast opportunities available for community radio licensing.

In fact Manicaland Province always had a community radio station, Kumakomoyo Community Radio Station formed in 2004 but has failed to get licensing from the government.

Chairman of Kumakomo Community Radio Station, Mike Tembo said as an organization operating outside the law for more than a decade the issue of licensing remained outstanding.

He also said the rationale behind community broadcasting was to push local development agendas in a non partisan manner, hence strides to push for broader participation of residents with a view of expanding coverage to surrounding rural areas.

“Our initiative has been in operation since 2004. This can translate to more than a decade of operation, but the journey has not been an easy ride down the park.

“The issue of licensing has been outstanding and remains unresolved to date.

“We are also lining up a move to engage nearby rural communities, who will also benefit once we start broadcasting because as I am made to understand the radius of broadcast in usually 60km.

“We have always reiterated on the importance of being non partisan in all our activities, we are apolitical. We don’t have any political affiliation, we don’t touch politics, we don’t report on it,” said Tembo.

Kumakomo is housed under the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) which has been advocating for the licensing of community radio stations, towards the attainment of the ideal three tier broadcasting system.

In this broadcasting system there should be space for public, commercial and community broadcasting to give plurality of sources of information to the public. This broadcasting system is part of international conventions, which Zimbabwe has signed and ratified.

Yet commercial is not community, this ought to be said loudly as the push for a three tier broadcasting system is an ideal which government has not allowed to prevail.

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