Proponents of media reform in Zimbabwe voiced disappointment and anger on Thursday as the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe awarded two new commercial radio licenses to a state newspaper publisher and a group aligned with President Robert Mugabe.
Broadcasting Authority Chairman Tafataona Mahoso told reporters that the licenses were awarded to Zimpapers, publisher of the state-controlled Herald newspaper among others, and AB Communications, controlled by former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation journalist Supa Mandiwanzira, who is closely aligned with Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF.
Mahoso, former chairman of the defunct Media and Information Commission, which shut down the independent Daily News paper in 2003 among other actions which earned him the sobriquet of "Media Hangman," said the two groups achieved the highest scores based on their proposals and public hearings held in Harare last month.
Unsuccessful short-listed applicants included South African-based Radio Voice of the People, which broadcasts over a Radio Netherlands transmitter in Madagascar, and Kiss-FM, whose backers include musical superstar Oliver Mtukudzi.
The awards confirmed the predictions of observers who said the Broadcasting Authority would give the coveted commercial FM licenses to ZANU-PF allies.
Radio VOP had pinned its hopes on language in the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing - the basis for the current government of national unity - which said that Zimbabweans broadcasting from abroad should re-establish themselves at home.
"The licensing of the two applicants also brings into question the sincerity of the government’s calls for Zimbabwean journalists manning foreign-based stations to return home and legalise their operations," said the Zimbabwean chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a statement issued following the announcement.
In a discussion with VOA journalist Sandra Nyaira, Voice of the People Chief Executive John Masuku said he was disappointed at the outcome but pleased that his group was able to submit a credible application. Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe Director Andrew Moyse said VOP's failure to obtain one of the licenses showed that the Broadcasting Authority was not serious about reform under the GPA.