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Govt using technical barriers to shut out potential broadcasters – MISA-Zim director

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

TABANI MOYO, director with top media rights lobby, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe), says government was using technical barriers, among them the law and steep licensing fees to freeze out prospective players from the country’s broadcasting space.

His comments follow a call for applications for radio and television licences by government this week.

Up for grabs are six free to air television station licences, 10 community radio stations out of cities and towns and campus radio stations for universities to be used for studies.

Application for these will cost $8 500 and if awarded the licence will be for 10 years, at a cost of $17 000/year.

The Zanu PF led government has in the past been accused of keeping a stranglehold on the country’s broadcasting space, only issuing out licences to individuals and companies with close links to the ruling party.

Commenting on the latest call for licences, Moyo said authorities were also using “protectionism and narrow political interests” to protect the country’s broadcasting industry.

“They are trying to hoodwink the international community that ‘we are breaking with the dark past’, yet in essence, it’s a consolidation of the dark past through technically protecting narrow interests of the ruling elite in the broadcasting industry,” Moyo told NewZimbabwe.com.

“This is well calculated to mislead the outside eyes that there is reform happening on the ground, yet the more things change, the more they remain the same.

“Government is opening up broadcasting space but technically shutting it…if you look at these six services that are being offered free to air service and the licence fees required, it’s a non-starter.

“All this in statutory obligation. Just, the application process, this is quite a lot money as one needs to invest in studios also.

“The draft bill says there won’t be more than 20% in this industry which entails that the government is technically knocking out potential investors in the industry and protecting the small click of players who are already inside.

“So, they are increasing the barriers to entry through the law.

“What they have simply done is to say if you were not in already, it will be difficult for you to raise the funds because you will only have leeway to raise the funds on top of yours only up to 20%.”

He went on to say that government is controlling the media through ZBC television and its six radio stations and with Zimpapers radio stations around the country.

“…What it simply tells you is that they have ring-fenced broadcasting through the law,” Moyo said.

“And this whole process of advertising will raise a facade of opening up yet we know, technically, no one will be entertained to apply since they can’t raise adequate capital to invest in this whole process.

Commenting on rural community radio licences call, Moyo said government is trying to extend ZBC monopoly in rural areas.

“What they have done is to tell you that we have already identified areas where we are going to license, so this is now an academic process because if you apply and you are not within this geographical space it means that you are wasting your time,” he said.

“Harare is not spaced for community radio broadcasting, Bulawayo is not spaced, all-metro are not spaced yet there are communities of interest within these towns and cities.”