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Zimbabwe Media Liberalization Advocates Grow Impatient on Radio Licenses

  • Tatenda Gumbo

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Broadcasting Authority officials in July told Parliament's committee on media that the agency lacked the capacity or funding to monitor new commercial stations as the law requires, raising doubts about new licenses

Zimbabweans hoping to see the launch of independent radio stations are becoming impatient at how long it is taking the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to follow through on its pledge four months ago to issue two commercial radio licenses.

Media reform advocates now say they now believe that promise was simply intended to fend off pressure for progress liberalizing the country’s electronic media. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. continues to exercise a domestic broadcast monopoly. Skeptics say they don't expect new licenses to be issued before elections coming up in 2012.

Broadcasting Authority officials in July told Parliament's committee on media that the agency lacked the capacity or funding to monitor new commercial stations as the law requires, raising questions as to the eventual licensing of new players.

BAZ Chairman Tafataona Mahoso and Chief Executive Officer Obert Maganyura at the time said they will face challenges once new players launch radio stations. They said it would take US$3 million to properly monitor independent broadcasters.

A report by the committee said the Broadcasting Authority has refused five applications for independent radio licenses in the past decade. The report said licensing criteria in the Broadcasting Services Act have been strongly criticized by media activists, and concluded that the application process was intended to maintain the status quo.

Broadcasting Authority officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

For perspective on the long delay in issuing licenses, VOA's Tatenda Gumbo spoke with lawmakers Pishai Muchauraya of the Tsvangirai formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, and Noel Mandebvu of the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, both members of the parliamentary committee on media.

Mandebvu blamed the delays in issuing licenses on funding issues - but Muchauraya charged that the political to liberalize the broadcast sector is lacking.

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