As Zimbabwe celebrates world radio day, it is crucial to note that Zimbabwe has three newly licensed community radio stations which will broadcast on FM, despite having a fairly ‘progressive’ constitution adopted in 2013.
This year’s commemorations are being held under the the theme, New World, New Radio.
The majority of what exists are communities, which are agitating for licensing. The Zimbabwe government, through the Ministry of Information (MoI) has been procrastinating on this matter and has come up with all sorts of excuses to delay the licensing of community radio stations, and therefore depriving citizens the enjoyment of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of the media, which are guaranteed and supported by Section 61 and Section 62 of the constitution.
There have been strong advocacy moves by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS), working with 28 Community Radio Initiatives (CRI) across the country, to have community radio stations on air in the past two decades.
Not much has given in on the part of the government. The CRI advocacy work has suffered mainly due to the crooked broadcasting history of the country from as way back as the Broadcasting Act of 1957 which unfairly created a monolithic broadcasting environment in which the state broadcaster, the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation (RBC), was the only broadcaster.
Before Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, broadcasting as an institution was organized racially to advance the political and economic interests of the white minorities.
It was not democratic or participatory, as it excluded the majority black population. Although the Rhodesian Federation (RF) later started ‘black community radio stations’, such as Radio Jacaranda (1964), Radio Manica (1969), Radio Matopos (1970), and Radio Mthwakazi (1970s), these stations were not communally owned and run, but were decentralized outposts of the state broadcaster that primarily sought to divide black people along regional and ethnic lines, so as to undermine the country’s liberation struggle which was under way.
After 1980 the same state monopoly in broadcasting continued based on the same colonial political reasoning and the legislation previously used by the RF. Although the national constitution clearly enshrined freedom of expression and multi-party politics, the new black government created a de facto one-party state, which undermined the diversity of political opinion in the political public sphere. The culture of authoritarianism continued on the pretexts of national security and nation building.
Period post year 2001 offered a glimmer of hope for media diversity, freedom of the media and Community Radio Stations (CRS) in particular when the oppressive Broadcasting Act (1957) was repealed by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. A prospective private broadcaster, Capital Radio, had successfully contested the constitutionality of the law. The period saw the emergence of CRI in various communities across the country.
The government responded by enacting the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) for the purpose of ‘opening’ the airwaves. Such is the record of the BSA that almost two decades to the year the law was enacted, Zimbabwe is joined by Swaziland, a despotic monarch, as the only 2 countries in SADC that do not have CRS operating on FM.
The BSA has an absurd provision, which asks would-be community broadcasters to wait for the government to invite them to submit their applications for licensing.
And for almost twenty years now, there has been one such call. Be that as it may, communities in Zimbabwe, eager to enjoy their freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, have been working hard preparing and ‘running’ their community radios in anticipation of the day the licenses will be granted.
The work and the waiting has not been easy on the part of the CRIs, with detentions and persecution of staff on spurious legal and political charges, confiscation of their equipment and products as well as political labelling.
With the help of their association, Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS), and other media advocacy groups, co-operating partners working in Zimbabwe and the region, the CRIs have adopted a double-pronged strategy to survive.
On one hand, they keep engaging and lobbying the government and political players to facilitate the amending or the enactment of media friendly laws.
On the other hand, they have kept busy, within the confines of the law, helping their communities to engage and disseminate community information especially of a developmental nature.
Within SADC countries, Zambia and South Africa are classic cases of how a country can benefit from a three-tier broadcasting arrangement that allows for public, private and community broadcasters.
There are a number of International and Regional legal instruments and Declarations that support the setting up of community radios for the purposes of offering access to information. These include Article 19 of the Human Rights Charter, as well as the Banjul Declaration of 2002.
One hopes the human factor, with interests in politics, will soon converted to allow Zimbabwean citizens to soon enjoy the benefits of a three-tier broadcasting arrangement as willed by their constitution.