MUTARE – While radio broadcasting has for long been considered as the medium of Africa, not for lack of literacy but for its effective use of local languages, in Zimbabwe it remains a contested terrain.
Overarching state interests have for long dominated the broadcasting sector and indeed the whole media industry, since colonial times.
This strong presence of state control in broadcasting has by and large entrenched a colonial heritage of monopoly of the airwaves, although at face value laws allow for diversity.
Under the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, appointed by a cabinet minister, licensing of radio stations has been slow with the few commercial stations licensed heavily linked to the ruling elite.
Media laws in Zimbabwe have for a long time raised a stench of authoritarianism, fuelled by political intolerance, an untenable situation according to civic groups fighting for media freedom.
One such organisation, Zimbabwe Association for Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) decried the prevailing state of affairs, calling on government to open up its airwaves.
Speaking at an inaugural Annual General Meeting of Kumakomo Community Radio Station recently, ZACRAS board member Thomas Sithole said government’s proposed framework for community radio stations was too narrow.
Defining a community
Sithole said government move to politicise the definition of a community is an underhand tactic to deny licenses for urban based community radio stations in favour of rural based ones.
“At the moment we don’t have a single community radio station. We hear that government is working on a regulatory framework for community radio licensing.
“This development is a deliberate move to thwart our space and until we engage in discussions to define a community we feel this move is wrong.”
He added, “It is indeed sad for government to say there are no communities in towns but only in rural areas. Unless and until all communities are given space we will have done ourselves a great disservice.”
His sentiments come after Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Professor Jonathan Moyo was quoted in sections of the media claiming Zimbabweans were confused over the definition of the term community.
Professor Moyo told a parliamentary portfolio committee that for the sake of licensing radio communities are ‘rural’, ‘geographical’ and ‘working under a Chief, with the Provincial and District Administrators as part of the set up.’
These assertions by Professor Moyo should not deter communities’ call for mediums of expression claims ZACRAS national coordinator Vivienne Marara.
— Nigel Mugamu 🇿🇼 (@SirNige) May 27, 2015
Non commercial, non partisan catering for a population with common features like a district, varsity & hospital! https://t.co/6rzlDyaVOB
— Prof Jonathan Moyo (@ProfJNMoyo) May 27, 2015
Marara said community radio licensing should not be prescriptive as the presence of such radio station is to push community development which cannot be prescribed.
“We should not be prescriptive when we talk about issues around community development because community radio why it is there is basically to push community development.
“So at the end of the day if we chose to be discriminatory or exclude other voices from taking part in the development discourse we are actually doing ourselves a disservice.
“Why should we as a country chose to act otherwise in a manner that tends to discriminate others from the development discourse,” she said.
Pushing a community radio agenda
She said her organisation was engaging relevant authorities to bring the community radio agenda on the table.
“We are engaging relevant authorities and by relevant authorities I mean the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services.
“We are also engaging the Information and Broadcasting Services portfolio committee to bring community agenda on the table,” she said.
In terms of defining a community, Marara urged government to make exhaustive consultations across the media industry to come up with a position.
“We encourage the ministry to engage other players in the industry to also try and have a consultative process to have their views.
“The same thing that they did during IMPI to hear people’s voice is the same thing which should be done in terms of defining what a community is.
“Why should we try and reinvent the wheel where already we know what a community is because there are international standards and practices around what exactly what a community is.
“So why should we as a country act in a manner which tends to discriminates other voices from the development discourse,” said Marara.
Operating on the periphery of the law
Chairman of Kumakomo Community Radio Station, Mike Tembo said as an organisation operating outside the law for more than a decade the issue of licensing remained outstanding.
“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,” he said.
Tembo however said despite this licensing gap, Kumakomo would continue engaging residents and stakeholders.
“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.
KCRS has largely been limited to holding focus group discussions and community meetings where they produce CDs which are distributed free of charge back to the community.
Operating without proper space, KCRS is the epitome of how broadcasting has been a highly contested terrain.