AS ZIMBABWE on Thursday joined the rest of the world in commemorating the international World Radio Day (WRD), there are increasing choruses for the Zanu PF government to speedily open the airwaves.
This year’s commemorations were held under the theme Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Radio.
The day is an annual occasion meant to draw attention to the unique value of radio, which remains the medium to reach the widest audience across the globe.
But media activists used the occasion to bemoan the government’s reluctance to rollout new independent radio stations, particularly community radio stations in a country where for more than three decades its over 13 million population has been at the mercy of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). In 2010 the coalition government attempted to partial free the airwaves by issuing two “independent” broadcasting liecences to Star FM and Zi FM, stations thought to have strong links with Zanu PF.
Nyasha Nyakunu, the deputy director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), urged the government to transform the ZBC into a truly independent public broadcaster.
He said there is urgent need to appoint an independent board that would shield the public broadcaster from political interference and secure its editorial independence in order for ZBC to fulfil its public mandate.
Nyakunu noted that WRD is commemorated on the backdrop of the potential of radio in reaching marginalised communities.
“Radio is a low cost medium that assists in giving voice to the vulnerable and marginalised groups as it transcends literacy limitations as well as enhancing socioeconomic, political and cultural communication among communities through the use of their own languages,” he said.
Foster Dongozi, the secretary general for the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said it was his trade union’s desire to see more licences issued to prospective independent broadcasters.
He was quick to credit the government he said seemed willing to open airwaves after it called for applications for 25 provincial commercial radio licences.
“It is the union’s desire to see more licenses being issued out because that means more community radios in Zimbabwe. We are moving from the analogue stage to the digital stage and we urge the government to continue awarding licenses to those who would have applied for them,” he said.
Dongozi said the opening of airwaves must be gender balanced and must see radio stations being run by women.
The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) said the delay in licensing community radio stations is a deprivation of citizen’s right of access to information from diverse sources.
“It is Zacras’ view that the licensing of community radios will be a milestone in Zimbabwe’s journey towards being a true democracy,” Zacras said in its statement issued to Southern Eye.