MISA Zimbabwe welcomes the licensing of eight more community radio stations as this will enhance access to information and exchange of ideas on issues that affect marginalised communities for the government’s attention.
The national geographic spread of the licensed stations is also of vital importance at a time when the country is fighting the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Those awarded licenses are Radio BukalangaPvt Limited, Matobo Community Radio Trust, Chimanimani Community Radio Station Trust, Vemuganga Community Radio Trust, Ndau Community Radio Trust, Twasumbuka Community Radio Trust, Patsaka Nyami Nyami Community Trust, Madziwa Community Radio Trust.
MISA Zimbabwe position
MISA Zimbabwe notes that the awarding of the additional licenses comes at a time when those that were awarded the initial licences are still to start their broadcasting.
This comes at a time when the media industry in Zimbabwe is generally facing viability challenges due to dwindling advertising revenue, a situation worsened by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With community radio stations restricted from operating for profit, it is imperative for government to come up with a sustainable policy framework on how these outfits can remain financially viable without compromising their editorial independence, once they start broadcasting.
MISA Zimbabwe also urges the government to accelerate the digitisation process which is reportedly being stalled by foreign currency challenges by duly allocating the required funds for completion of the project which is now long overdue.
We further call upon the government to accelerate the review of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), an archaic law currently governing the broadcasting industry in Zimbabwe. The BSA is one of the two laws that were targeted for reforms by the government together with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Since the government conceded to this process, the proposed broadcasting services amendment Bill is yet to be presented before parliament.
The Broadcasting Services Act Amendment Bill seeks to make changes to the existing BSA which regulates broadcasting services in Zimbabwe.
Several issues that MISA Zimbabwe objects to could very well cripple the broadcasting industry in Zimbabwe if not remedied through the proposed Bill.
The proposed amendment Bill which was shared with stakeholders more than three years ago prohibits donations for broadcasting services. This prohibition refers to the donation of actual equipment and financial donations that are at most times used to get community radio stations up and running.
For example, this means that a church-based organisation cannot donate radio broadcasting equipment to a local community for the purpose of setting up a religious or faith-based community radio station within that local community.
On a broader scale, the Bill limits foreign ownership in a local broadcasting service provider to a maximum of 20%. This is problematic because broadcasting by its nature is a capital intensive industry.
Insisting that local funding should make up at least 80% of the capital will mean that several broadcasting services will have difficulties raising the required operational capital to establish such services.
Therefore, MISA Zimbabwe calls for the speedy review of the regulatory framework in favour of frameworks that stimulate broadcasting industry growth and sustainability.
An increase in the foreign direct investment threshold will increase prospects for investments in the sector, and by extension, contributions to the Broadcasting Development Fund, which is critical for community media development.