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'Politics Rather Than Capacity, Reason Why Zimbabwe Won't Open Airwaves'

Zimbabwe has the capacity to license at least 120 national radio and television stations, but the Zanu PF arm of the coalition government is reluctant to open up the airwaves for political reasons, says chairman of the parliamentary committee on media, Settlement Chikwinya.

The lawmaker, from the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told journalists in Harare the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe's decision not to license more radio stations was merely political.

He said Transmedia, the country’s signal carrier, has the capacity for 68 radio and 51 television stations, and could expand if Harare made the full switch from analogue to digital transmission.

Zimbabwe, under the SADC regional mandate, is falling short in meeting the 2013 move from analogue to digital.

Speaking on the recent licensing of two new commercial radios, Chikwinya said potential "groups like Kiss FM and Vox Media productions should be allowed to operate as there is space for them and many others who want to join the fray."

According to a legal statue, any potential broadcasters must be prepared in-house to begin broadcasting; furnishing equipment to enable broadcasting, then apply to be licensed by the authority and if awarded a license, seek transmission only through Transmedia.

Last year BAZ officials told parliament the regulatory agency had not issued new licenses because they lacked capacity to monitor new commercial radio stations as missioned by law.

In the testimony officials, including Chairman Tafataona Mahoso said they are using rudimentary equipment and would face challenges once new player launch radio stations, and said it would take US$3 million to properly monitor new broadcasters.

But critics have complained BAZ has lagged behind in issuing licenses, only to award two commercial licenses last year to Zanu PF-aligned stations - AB Communications and Zimpapers.

Director Gift Mambipiri of Community Radio Harare told reporter Tatenda Gumbo potential broadcasters are ready to go on air once given the greenlight by the government.

"Zimbabwe does have that capacity just like any other country in southern Africa, Transmedia and the ministry of information and publicity have been trying to keep a lid over how many frequencies the country has," said Mambipiri.

He challenged all stakeholders to open the airwaves as Zimbabwe has more than enough frequencies to accommodate both television and radio stations that are willing to go on air.