New stations, same old message

Yet another chance to implement critical reforms in Zimbabwe, yet another lost opportunity. And once again it’s President Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) party who are left smiling all the way to the recording studios.

As many people had pessimistically expected, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe decided on Thursday to grant both of the new commercial radio licenses to groups loyal to Mugabe and his party – leaving proponents of media reform, and anyone hoping for a freer and fairer media playing field ahead of possible elections next year, disappointed and angry.

Broadcasting Authority Chairman, Tafataona Mahoso, said that the licenses had been awarded to Zimpapers – the publisher of the state-controlled and rabidly pro-Mugabe Herald newspaper among others – and AB Communications, which is controlled by former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation journalist Supa Mandiwanzira, who is closely aligned with Zanu (PF).

The chairperson of the Media Institute for Southern Africa-Zimbabwe, Njabulo Ncube, said the move was predictable, adding that the two companies given licenses were no different from the national, pro-Mugabe ZBC.

“It’s tantamount to applying lipstick to a frog,” Ncube said. “It was – and still is – our belief that as long as the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe – is not reconstituted, Zimbabwe will not have genuine independent broadcasters.”

Mahoso, former chairman of the defunct Media and Information Commission, which shut down the independent Daily News paper in 2003, said the two groups achieved the highest scores based on their proposals and public hearings held in Harare last month.

It would be interesting to see the scores since, as Zimpapers’ name suggests, it produces newspapers and has no track record of creating radio shows. However, it does have a history of publishing vitriolic attacks on the MDC and anyone who voices a different point of view from Mugabe and his party.

Unsuccessful short-listed applicants included Kiss-FM, whose backers include musical superstar Oliver Mtukudzi, and the South African-based Radio Voice of the People, which – as its name clearly suggests – actually produces radio content.

One of the key reforms in the Global Political Agreement was freeing up the airwaves and increasing the diversity of voices in Zimbabwe’s media. These new licenses will do nothing of the sort. All they will do is enhance Zanu (PF)’s dominance of the media landscape.

Post published in: Politics

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