By Mlondolozi Ndlovu
Historical background to the calls for government to license CRIs
UNTIL recently Zimbabwe has not had any licensed Community Radio Stations broadcasting on FM, despite having a fairly ‘progressive’ constitution adopted in 2013. Even when the country adopted the three tier broadcasting system which accommodated the establishment of community radio stations, what existing were communities, which were agitating for licensing.
The Zimbabwean government, through the Ministry of Information, publicity and broadcasting services (MoIPBS) had been procrastinating on this matter whereupon the political willingness to undertake licensing of community radio stations was limited or non-existent. In the process this deprived citizens the enjoyment of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of the media, which are guaranteed and supported by s61 and s62 of the constitution.
There have been strong advocacy moves by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS), working with over 22 CRI across the country, to have community radio stations on air in the past two decades.
The CRI advocacy work had suffered mainly due to the skewed 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.
The Broadcasting Services Act of 2002 did not offer much, as it created the BAZ to regulate broadcasting services in Zimbabwe but no narrative at all regarding the setting up and licensing of community radio stations. .
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 2 such calls, the first one being in February 2020 and another in June 2021.
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 radio initiatives 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 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.
Late last year government licensed 6 community radio stations and among them was one ZACRAS member- Ntepe Manama community radio. Similarly, last week 8 new community radio stations were licensed and five of them were ZACRAS members making a total of 6 out of 8 ZACRAS members that have applied and offered licenses.
Current state of preparedness
- Governance- The newly licensed ZACRAS members have active structures and boards. They are recognized in their communities and have some form of community support. This is why it was very difficult for BAZ to deny them licenses.
2.Content- These community radio stations have been producing content through alternative platforms and will be able to go on air once the technical aspects are resolved.
3.Skills- ZACRAS has been providing the CRs with the necessary skills on the basic operations of a radio Station.
Non ZACRAS Members
1.They have no structures- They need to organise and mobilize their communities.
- Content- They are not trained enough to produce content that an last
3.They have no equipment
Funding, Equipment and technology factors
By operation and by definition, community radios must rely on community members who should form the bulk of volunteer workers, and also make monetary donations towards the running and sustainability of the station.
This is the standard all over, and it gives the community the sense of ownership and participation.
But with 72% of Zimbabweans living on less than one US dollar a day,their ability to sustain the CR both as volunteer workers and financial contributors is highly compromised.
Broadcasting is highly technological venture. Technology plays a key role in gathering, editing and processing information. Transmitting the information to the community, and in turn receiving their feedback and input, is a technological conversation involving recorders, editing suites, audio transmitters, and digital signal receivers within homes. Technology is thus one of the challenges that exist within Zimbabwean CRI, no matter their hunger to broadcast today.
Lack of Foreign Investments
The Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) disallows any form of foreign direct investment in a broadcasting venture. Given the necessity of importing broadcasting equipment from out of the country as well as the attendant foreign currency required for this, it is not practical to totally refuse foreign investment in community media. Whilst the majority shareholding of any broadcasting media should be in the hands of Zimbabweans room must be left for foreign based Zimbabweans so that communities benefit from foreign currency injection but also from new technology.
These recommendations that I propose for the newly licensed stations;
– Conduct a thorough needs assessment of the licensed stations so as to appreciate their needs, strengths and gaps ahead of their eventual broadcasting. This will ensure that all stakeholders involved in the growth of these stations are strategically positioned and better informed to provide relevant support.
– There is need to collaborate or provide support in the training of the stations in key thematic areas such as Radio Production, Corporate governance, social media management, digital security, studio handling, basic journalism techniques and other critical capacity enhancement needs as presented by the stations.
-Provision of studio equipment and other broadcasting accessories. Support the sourcing (purchase) and delivery of studio equipment and accessories including seeking duty waivers for the benefit of the receiving community and campus radio stations.
– Continuous experiential learning- need to facilitate the development and use of expertise through secondments and exchange visits for community and campus radio staff and volunteers within the African region- organise workshops and seminars in areas of mutual interest and based on the learning needs of the stations.
– There is need for resource mobilisation- government must ensure there is funding for the community radio stations since there is no foreign funding or advertisements.
-Training will have to be continous on areas of content production, program scheduling, consistency will be key.
– The message has to change- we have been running under the campaign like-’Free the airwaves’ but now that we have a three tier system, focus must change. Issues of editorial independence, funding for new players must be at the core of our message
– Campaign for the reform on the licensing process to ensure that the process happens throughout the year. The invitation process is open to abuse by the authority
– The law must be changed to ensured that the percentage of foreign funding for Zimbabweans in the diaspora to invest in the community radios
– Community radio must be allowed to apply for grants, have advertisements but mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that there is editorial independence.
-Support for the formulation of internal policies for community and campus radio stations.
– Continue to advocate for the licensing of more CRIs
Government of Zimbabwe
- Fully respect the editorial and programming independence of community radio stations that have been established.
- Make the BAZ more autonomous and strengthen it to function without political interference.
- Repeal laws that are in place which are unnecessary restrictions on citizens exercising their right to freedom of expression- funding of CR.
Recommendations to BAZ
- Adopt an open-end mechanism of licensing of community broadcasters by accepting applications any time of the year.
- Lower the fees for licenses to ease the financial burden for applicants in community broadcasting.
- Operate in a nonpartisan, fair transparent manner including opening adjudication process and the decisions not to license made available to the applicant as well as to the public particularly allay fears that licenses are being issued favorably to the ruling party members and sympathizes.
- Investigate reasons why government has failed to license some community broadcasting licenses with the view of taking corrective measures that result in assurance of license in a non-partisan, fair and transparent manner.
- Help in ensuring that the new BSA is in line with the constitution of Zimbabwe and the country’s obligations under regional and international human rights standards.
*This presentation was made at a MISA-Zimbabwe function in Harare recently*