INFORMATION minister Jonathan Moyo’s promise to reform the media has been tested with the licensing of radio stations linked to Zanu PF.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) on Tuesday named the State-owned Zimpapers and AB Communications owned by Information Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira as among the five companies that have been awarded radio broadcasting licences, with none for players that are seen to be independent of the government.
Ironically, new licences for Zimpapers and Mandiwanzira’s AB Communications come only a few days after Moyo slated their radio stations, Star FM and ZiFM respectively, threatening to close them for failing to provide national coverage.
Questions linger why only those linked to the government and Zanu PF were licensed, with observers saying this was an indicator that the government was not too keen on opening broadcasting space.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe chapter) director Nhlanhla Ngwenya cast doubt on the seriousness of the government and BAZ in promoting media diversity by continuing to license the same players.
“The substance of the liberalisation of the airwaves remains questionable because it is the same players that are State-controlled or linked to the ruling Zanu PF party that appear to be benefiting from the frequency spectrum,” he said.
“Mandiwanzira is a Zanu PF MP and his AB Communications company and the State-owned Zimpapers stable were also awarded commercial broadcasting licences the previous year.
“The concentration of the ownership in the hands of those linked to or belonging to the ruling party is detrimental to the broadcasting diversity and it is clearly meant to ensure that there is expansion of the media empire and that those linked to the ruling elite are the only owners of broadcast media.”
Zimbabwe Association for Community Radio Stations chairperson Gift Mambipiri said although they appreciated the licensing of new radio stations, there was no diversity.
“The march towards diversity appears compromised when the same players, linked to, or with a close relationship with the State, are licensed, as is the case now,” he said.
“The government has always dominated the airwaves via ZBC.
“Their further licensing of Zimpapers and Kingstons is a sure sign that they plan to sell the nation a dummy.
“Allowing a few individuals or entities to appropriate and take everything on offer, when others are crying for the same breeds discontent in the land.
“Our unity as a people may be compromised by such selfish acts.”
Loughty Dube of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), said for BAZ to retain any modicum of credibility there was need for it to publish results of its interview processes.
“What is important now is for BAZ to publicly issue a statement showing how it chose these companies,” he said.
“It should show how each company fared during the interview process, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each company and how it came to a conclusion that such and such a company deserved a licence so as to dispel any talk of bias and favouritism.”
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi weighed in saying “we celebrate this as a victory against the struggle for access to information and freedom of the press”.
“There is need to attend or ensure that the process of awarding licences does not leave anyone in doubt as to whether those that were given licences genuinely deserved them,” he said.
“This is essential to remove any perceptions of favouritism and bias in the awarding of licences.
“This is necessary so that we do not have many voices singing the same tune because media pluralism does not mean media diversity.”
Mandiwanzira’s AB Communications won two licences (Gogogoi and Faya FM) to broadcast in Masvingo and Gweru respectively, Zimpapers (Diamond FM in Mutare), Fairtalk Communications (Skyz Metro FM for Bulawayo and Breeze FM for Victoria Falls), Kingstons (Nyaminyami FM and KE100.4 for Kariba and Harare respectively) and Ray of Hope (YA FM in Zvishavane).
Transport minister Obert Mpofu was snubbed by BAZ, as he applied for two licences, one in Bulawayo and another in Victoria Falls.
The minister’s team, however, failed to attend the interview process in Victoria Falls and was banking on Bulawayo, where they expected to win the licence.
There is reportedly bad blood between Moyo, the minister who oversees BAZ and Mpofu, over factionalism in Zanu PF.
There have been calls for the regulating authority to free the television airwaves and end the monopoly of the State ZBC that faces charges of being biased towards the ruling Zanu PF.