Push for community radios fizzles out

mushohwe chris

Minister of Information Chris Mushohwe

CALLS by civic society organisations and other pressure groups for government to licence the much-awaited community radio stations seem to have fizzled out.
Pressure groups such as the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) have been at the forefront of campaigning for the licencing of community radio stations.
In 2012, MISA organised a broadcasting conference, attended by a number of community radio stakeholders, at which immediate licencing of community radio stations by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) was demanded.
BAZ, which has been dragging its feet on the matter, has only licenced commercial radios, but has been mum about  its plans for community radio stations, until recently when the then former information minister, Jonathan Moyo, said they were still looking at the framework under which community radios would operate.
But the actual licencing has not yet taken place with both BAZ and government now focusing on the ongoing digitisation programme.
There are over 13 community radio initiatives across Zimbabwe, all waiting to be invited to apply for broadcasting licences.
Some of these stations have state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment and are ready to go on air.
According to section 10 of the Broadcasting Services Act, licence applications can only be received and processed after BAZ has made an invitation for their submission.
BAZ has not made such an invitation regarding community radio licences since its inception in 2001. Observers say this reinforces government’s reluctance and insincerity to end the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s monopoly over the airwaves.
As the economy continues to deteriorate, pressure groups, which could be experiencing funding problems, have of late not been active in calling for the licencing of community radio stations.
ZACRAS national coordinator, Vivienne Marara, this week denied that they had given up.
“Lobby and advocacy for community radio licences remains high on the ZACRAS list of priorities. There are a number of activities which are being conducted at a national and local level by ZACRAS members in a bid to continue lobbying for community radio licences,” Marara said adding that in the absence of licences they were continuing to explore various information dissemination platforms.
As the world celebrated community radio day on February 13, Marara said ZACRAS members would not only celebrate, but would also take the opportunity to remind the powers-that-be that licencing of community radios remains an outstanding issue in Zimbabwe.
“Community radio stations have not given up the fight,” said Radio Dialogue production manager, Zenzele Ndebele.
“Over the years there has been a change on strategy. You will remember that there was a new Constitution that was put in place which recognised the freedom of speech and we thought finally the government had listened, however little has changed,” Ndebele said. He added that despite the fact that digitisation would free airwaves, they had to fight for community radio stations. He said they expected government to continue dragging its feet over the matter.
“This government is not serious about licencing community radios and digitisation will not change their position. We will take the fight to their door step. Don’t forget companies like Econet got their licences via courts. We will be announcing our plan of action soon and definitely we won’t wait for digitisation,” said Ndebele.
Getjenge FM community radio initiative station manager, Thomas Sithole, also said while funding was impacting on campaigns, they were still pressing government to address the issue.
“It is no longer ZACRAS and MISA who are making noise, but people at community level through their elected representatives and we are saying with or without digitisation, the struggle continues…,” said Sithole.
According to UNESCO radio still remains a leader of communication methods because of its ability to reach audiences worldwide and is a powerful and versatile tool that should not be overlooked.
It plays an important part as a low-cost medium specifically suited to reaching remote communities and vulnerable people.
Some community radio stations actually feel ignored by government. Community Radio Harare’s Givemore Chipere said there were deliberate efforts to frustrate them.
“We are very sceptical about government intentions. We formed our station in 2003 and we are still waiting for a licence,” Chipere said.
In his message on World Radio Day the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon emphasised the importance of community radio stations.
“Through community radio, local people can raise their voices and be heard. This year, as we start carrying out the Sustainable Development Goals, let us resolve to use radio for human progress.
“In the lead-up to the World Humanitarian Summit this May, let us find ways for radio to do even more to help people in emergencies,” the UN chief said.
In a statement UNESCO said radio can be used to give under-represented groups a way to make their voices heard, save lives during natural disasters, give journalists a medium to report stories, and allow amateur enthusiasts a way to connect to their fellow hobbyists on a global scale.
“Radio is specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level,” UNESCO said.
February 13, 1946 is the day the United Nations radio was established. It was proposed by the Director-General of UNESCO.
“The objectives of the Day will be to raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio; to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio; as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters”.
UNESCO explained that the day was also set aside to celebrate radio as a medium; to improve international cooperation between broadcasters; and to encourage major networks and community radio alike to promote access to information, freedom of expression and gender equality over the airwaves.
“This year, the UNESCO theme for World Radio Day is “Radio in Times of Emergency and Disaster”.
“Through World Radio Day celebrations around the world, UNESCO will promote radio in times of emergency and disaster,” the UN agency said.  By Mandla Tshuma and Farai Mabeza