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Foreign Radio Broadcasts on the Agenda in Zimbabwe Unity Gov't Crisis Talks

The issue of news broadcasts by what President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party calls "pirate" radio stations - including VOA's Studio 7 - now figures prominently in the current negotiations among the Harare power-sharing partners

Proposals for media reform and liberalization in Zimbabwe have become caught up in heated rhetoric about "pirate" radio stations including VOA's Studio 7 and London-based SW Radio Africa that the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe says are broadcasting “hate messages” to the country.

A Foreign Ministry official said this week that the government intends to lodge a diplomatic protest with Botswana for allowing the Voice of America to transmit into Zimbabwe from its soil. The government of Zimbabwe has aknowledged jamming that medium-wave or AM signal since the middle of 2006.

But the U.S. government-funded broadcasting entity says that if Zimbabwe were to liberalize the airwaves many local stations would spring up. VOA Studio 7 began broadcasting in 2003 to provide Zimbabweans with balanced news.

The 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing calls for the governing parties to urge foreign governments to end these broadcasts, and for expatriate Zimbabweans transmitting news from abroad to return and set up at home.

For perspective on this media issue that has come to figure prominently in the current discussions among unity government partners, VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere turned to London-based political analyst George Shire and Francis Mdlongwa, former Financial Gazette editor, now director of the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership at South Africa's Rhodes University.

Shire maintained that radio stations should be licensed by the countries to which they broadcast. Mdlongwa said the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai cannot be held accountable by the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe for broadcasts by foreign governments or others over which it has no control.