Persecution of community radio advocates worries Amnesty

Amnesty International has expressed concern over the persecution of journalists seeking community radio licences in Zimbabwe.

In a new report entitled “Beyond tokenism: The need to license community radio stations” Amnesty noted that those advocating for community radio licenses over the past 14 years have had their right to freedom of expression violated by the state.

“For the last 14 years, the Zimbabwean government has failed to license a single community radio station despite passing the Broadcasting Services Act in 20011, which recognises the three-tier broadcasting system and sets the criteria and licensing process.

“At least 28 community radio initiatives exist awaiting to be licensed. They have experienced a restrictive operational environment including violations of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The community radio initiatives have endured police raids, detention of activists and are subjected to surveillance by state security agents,” says the global human rights watchdog in its latest report.

Persecution

The persecution of community radio advocates occurred in an environment where human rights defenders, government critics and opposition activists were also denied their civil and political rights “through discriminatory practices, arbitrary application of the law and, in some instances, blatant violence is used with almost absolute impunity.”

The report says the failure by government to license community radio stations despite the existence of laws providing for it, constituted a violation of the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed in the country’s constitution and enshrined in regional and international human rights treaties to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

Amnesty said the failure also undermined the ability of communities to participate in debates of public interest on social, economic and cultural issues.

“Opening up the airwaves in Zimbabwe, particularly to include the establishment of independent community radio stations, can have a positive impact on the lives of people, especially the low income communities in urban and rural areas who have traditionally been marginalized by mainstream media, to freely exchange information and ideas on matters of public interest among themselves through a seemingly cheaper medium that is accessible to them,” says the report.

“This will no doubt open up the space for communities to articulate issues concerning their constitutional rights and on development matters that can contribute to achieving personal development and prosperity.”

Polorised environment

The report partly blamed a polarised political environment that has existed since 2000 and where the media has not been allowed space to operate freely for restrictions on community radio operations.

In the past, particularly during election time, advocates of community radio stations have been arrested and subsequently released without being charged, while the police and other security agencies have confiscated mobile radios from members of the community.

“There is public demand for independent community radio stations in Zimbabwe which is evidenced by the existence of at least 28 community radio initiatives spread across the country, driven by community activists pushing the boundaries despite contemptuous attitudes of the government and the regulatory authority,” said AI.

To date, the Zimbabwean government has licensed 10 commercial radios even though the majority of them is yet to commence operations and are seen as pro-Zanu (PF). Two of the radio stations are national commercial stations while eight are local and were licensed in March 2015.

Biased

“Amnesty International is concerned about the apparent biased issuance of radio boardcasting licences in Zimbabwe since the end of the monopoly of the state broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH). Notably, all 10 licences have been issued to five companies that are state-owned or controlled,” says the report. “Zimbabwe has an obligation under international law to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression of everyone in the country, especially those who are marginalised by the mainstream media and those whose voices are drowned in national or local debates.” It urged government to remove all barriers that have delayed the licensing of community radio stations.

Post published in: Human Rights

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