Section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the freedom of establishment of broadcasting and other electronic media of communication, subject only to State licensing procedures that are necessary to regulate the airwaves and are independent of control by Government or by political or commercial interest.
At a time that Zimbabwe has 2 of the 3 tiers of broadcasting comprising of public and commercial broadcasting, it is therefore regrettable that an Official from the Ministry mandated with promoting broadcasting diversity and pluralism in Zimbabwe believes that calls for community radios are unwarranted.
In his speech made at the official opening of Hevoi FM, a local commercial radio station in Masvingo, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Mr George Charamba, was quoted in the Herald of 14 July 2017 saying that the “noise” for the issuance of community radio licenses is unwarranted.
Findings from the Government sanctioned outreach meetings done by the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) indicate that many Zimbabweans expressed the need for the licensing of community radios in Zimbabwe. It is therefore unfortunate that by saying that the “noise” for the issuance of community radio licenses is unwarranted, Mr Charamba is therefore dismissing citizen views and concerns.
At the same event, Mr Charamba went on to say that those leading calls for Government to license community radios should feel embarrassed as it had licensed several local commercial radio stations through the country like Hevoi Fm in Masvingo.
ZACRAS wishes to categorically state that local commercial radio cannot be a substitute for community broadcasting. This is because the two are different in terms of approach, ownership, programming, motivation and principles. Unlike commercial radio, community radio by its very nature and definition is cheaper to run, accessible and allows citizen participation at all levels of the Stations.
As stated at the same function by the Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Honorable Christopher Mushohwe, there is need to open up the airwaves as a democratic principle so that we have as many players as is practically possible.
We therefore urge Government to do the following:
• Expedite the licensing of community radios.
• Create a conducive and enabling operating environment for community broadcasters.
• Provide a clear and democratic regulatory framework for the licensing of community radios.
• Implement the IMPI recommendations. specifically the licensing of community radios.
It is dangerous and irresponsible for a public official such as the Permanent Secretary to try and hoodwink citizens into believing that commercial and community radio seek to serve the same purpose. ZACRAS therefore implores Mr Charamba not to take Zimbabweans for granted and should cease making unwarranted noise.