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Public Uproar Over Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation License Fees

Zimbabwean media practitioners and lawyers have called on authorities to overhaul the Broadcasting Services Act which compels owners of radios and television sets in the country to buy licenses regardless of access or necessity.

Meeting for a conference in Masvingo at the weekend, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter and the Media Lawyers Network agreed it is time to press the government to repeal and amend repressive pieces of legislation affecting the running of the media in the country.

Of major concern to most ordinary people are the powers given to the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, to force citizens to buy licenses even if they do not receive their programs.

Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the ZBC has the authority to demand license fees from owners of radio and television sets regardless of whether they can access or tune into ZBC channels.

Residents throughout the country have complained of ZBC employees courting police to force them to pay for licenses even when they do not have a reliable signal in their area. Radio licenses cost upwards of US$20 while television licenses cost more than US$50.

MISA-Zimbabwe director Nhlanhla Ngwenya told VOA authorities must allow Zimbabweans to access media platforms of their choice.

He said only a legal solution can free many from being forced to buy the licenses.

"You can either as a citizen, who feels their rights have been eroded, seek redress from the court or we can compel the legislature to repeal the provision together with other provisions," he said.

Bulawayo resident Evans Ndaba says along with many other residents, he has opted to receive television and radio programs from alternative sources.

He says people should be allowed to chose rather than being dragged to court for not owning a license.

"The programming of ZBC is for Zanu PF," said Ndaba. "Why must people watch Zanu PF programs whilst people have got their own choice of watching something else."

He added that he does not pay the annual fee, and would opt for legal recourse if he is forced to.