At the former ruling party’s annual conference that concluded last weekend, Zanu PF leaders called for the jamming of radio stations such as VOA's Studio 7, Radio Voice of the People and SW Radio Africa that continue to broadcast from various nations. Critics say jamming of external radio stations broadcasting to Zimbabwe would deny the majority of people access to alternative sources of information for making informed decisions. They argue that President Robert Mugabe’s party wants to continue its domination of the airwaves in order to maintain the status quo. But Zanu PF officials maintain that these radio stations, which enjoy sizeable audiences in Zimbabwe, are breaking the law and should be jammed.
For perspective, VOA Studio 7 reporter Violet Gonda spoke to the Movement for Democratic Change’s Settlement Chikwinya, the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio on Media Information, Publicity and Communications Technology, and Zanu PF’s Simba Mudarikwa, who sits on the same media portfolio committee.
Settlement Chikwinya: Violet, thank you for bringing about that topic and actually noting that unfortunate revolution from the Zanu PF 13th conference. It is quite unfortunate because Zanu PF is a party to the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which gave birth to the inclusive government and therefore Zanu PF must be seen to be committed to provisions of the Global Political Agreement.
I will refer you to Article 19, sub-section C2 of the GPA, which says the government shall encourage the Zimbabweans running or working for external radio stations, broadcasting into Zimbabwe, to return to Zimbabwe. We have a case in point of Voice of the People (VOP), which made an application when the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) called for applications when we wanted to issue out licenses for two commercial radio stations.
The inclusive government should actually have turned Article 19 from a statement of intent to a statement of action by actioning the provision of licensing VOP - therefore showing its commitment to the provisions of media diversity and plurality. But unfortunately they only gave them to extensions of ZBC. They only gave them to mouthpieces which can only promote Zanu PF. So it is quite unfortunate that they want to jam foreign funded radio stations when they still control news content here in Zimbabwe.
Violet Gonda: Mr. Mudarikwa?
Simba Mudarikwa: Let us clear the whole thing. The first and foremost thing - is the only foreign based radio station which applied for a license is VOP. SW Radio Africa did not apply, Studio 7 did not apply. Some local radio stations applied but did not meet the criteria and they appealed to the Parliamentary Committee on Media and Information - to say we have made an application and this is the anomaly. So these other radios never really even cared to apply and later on never even cared to appeal.
The issue of broadcasting in Zimbabwe is a constitutional issue, it is part of the GPA, as honourable chairperson is mentioning, but radio broadcasting as it stands, I think the honourable chairperson is aware that they are building up base stations in Zimbabwe for community radios. The whole of Zimbabwe there will be community radios. When we met with relevant authorities they were now building base stations for opening up of the airwaves. We now have more than 10 media houses now registered, publishing more than three daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, monthly magazines, plenty plus. But we must never remain in the past. We must always continue to look into the future.
Gonda: But Mr. Mudarikwa let me just come in there, if you say we must always look into the future, why is it that Zanu PF continues to threaten these external radio stations by wanting to jam their signals?
Mudarikwa: Why should you broadcast in America for Zimbabwe when there is nobody in Zimbabwe broadcasting to America?
Gonda: But you know why these radio stations are broadcasting from outside Zimbabwe - mainly because Zanu PF actually controls the airwaves in Zimbabwe…(interrupted)
Mudarikwa: No, No, No…
Gonda: Furthermore, if you have a problem with specific broadcasters like Studio 7 or SW Radio Africa, doesn’t it seem unbelievable that you would actually allow these same broadcasters to have FM licences in Zimbabwe?
Mudarikwa: You can get a licence, that’s why I am saying you are still living in the past. You still believe Zanu PF doesn’t want to hear shortwave radio when we listen all the time. I listen to your station because it actually reaches all the other areas. You think Zanu PF doesn’t want to hear what you say. What is it that you are scared of to make an application?
Gonda: But VOP was denied a license. That is one example - one of the external radio stations… (interrupted)
Mudarikwa: No, No, No… Are you VOP?
Gonda: Zimbabweans have a right to access information from whatever source and basically, why should it be up to a certain political parties to determine who should have a license in Zimbabwe?
Mudarikwa: So what you want is for people to bring license forms to your office so to make an application? Why should you get that special treatment?
Gonda: Mr. Chikwinya your thoughts?
Chikwinya: Yes, I’m quite happy that honourable Mudarikwa is actually alluding to the fact that Short Wave Radio Africa and Studio 7 are actually reaching out to all areas in Zimbabwe. That is basically one of the reasons why we are crying out for radio stations with enough capacity to be able to distribute news content to everyone in Zimbabwe - so that people will make informed choices especially at this time when we are going for elections.
However, honourable Mudarikwa is a veteran of the liberation struggle - he will know that when Ian Smith muzzled the broadcasting airwaves in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF established a radio station in Mozambique and that radio station managed to assist in waging the liberation struggle until the colonial powers were defeated.
The fact of the matter is that if you muzzle broadcasting space in your own country, people of the same country will move out and establish broadcasting stations operating from other countries which are actually friendly to democratic processes, which are actually friendly to progressive forces which promote democracy and media freedom.
Therefore, it is Violet Gonda a Zimbabwean person who is broadcasting from America. It is actually Jonga Kandemiiri a Zimbabwean child broadcasting from America. So the same concept which worked during the liberation struggle is the same concept which is working now because the people of Zimbabwe, in as far as the media is concerned, are still waging a liberation struggle in order for them to free themselves, for them to be able to actually have media diversity and media plurality.
I am also quite happy that honourable Mudarikwa mentioned community radio stations. I just want to assist and correct him in this manner. The government of Zimbabwe is planning to establish community radio stations, not community radio stations which are going to be controlled by communities but community radio stations which are going to be controlled by government! And this again is the same scenario which Ian Smith did during the liberation struggle when he established Radio Jacaranda in Zim.
We are calling for truly community-based radio stations, radio stations like Radio Kwela, Radio Makomo in Manicaland, Radio Masvingo in Masvingo Province, they are there currently ready to establish, but the government does not want to issue them with licenses. It wants to issue state-controlled community radio stations where it continues to have an extension of muzzling democratic freedom in as far as media is concerned.
Gonda: You seem to be crying foul all the time, but what is the MDC doing about this? What are you doing about making sure that there are proper media reforms in Zimbabwe?
Chikwinya: The MDC is truly a part in the inclusive government, and as the MDC we have lobbied at the SADC forum that we reform the bodies that actually control the editorial policies that govern news contents at the public broadcasters. You would recall that in August of 2010, SADC made a resolution that the governing bodies of state media - like the Mass Media Trust, the ZBH board - must be reconstituted in recognisance of parliamentary representation of the three political parties, to say the 5-5-3 formation.
But the chairperson of cabinet is President Robert Mugabe. He is the implementer of such resolutions, that’s the first thing. The second issue is that the minister responsible for Media and Information and Publicity is honourable Webster Shamu - again the conduit responsible for bringing the necessary legislation to parliament.
But we can only do so much if the executive is reluctant - especially the minister responsible and the president who chairs the cabinet. So we cannot go far. This is why the prime minister said on May 3, 2011, that ‘if I had a way I was going to fire Webster Shamhu because he is refusing to reconstitute the BAZ, he is refusing to reconstitute the Mass Media Trust, he is refusing to reconstitute the ZBH Act”.
And if Webster Shamu refuses to reconstitute these bodies with the blessing of President Robert Mugabe, we can only place the matter before the public for the public to know that they are being denied media freedoms and media diversity because of the Zanu PF arm in government.
Gonda: So basically what you are saying is the MDC has failed?
Chikwinya: We have not failed because we are not alone; if we were alone we would have said we have failed. We have played our part. We have won the SADC resolutions. We have won even in as far as having a say to the editorial content of even those perceived radio stations which are perceived to be extensions of ZBC - the Star FM and ZiFM.
You and I would agree that Zimbabweans are quite happy to the extent to which Star FM and ZiFM are actually having their editorial content. However, their space is limited because you can see the shadow of George Charamba hovering above them and they are limited. However they are trying to please us because we mentioned to them at the time they were licensed that if you are going to be an extension or a clone of Zanu PF, we will make sure that your licenses are revoked. So we have done our apart, but we could do better if we were alone as a government. We could do better if we were in control of the media ministries. We could do better if Morgan Tsvangirai was the president and chair of cabinet.
Gonda: Mr. Mudarikwa, what do you make of these accusations being made by Mr. Chikwinya?
Chikwinya: We have to look at this thing in an open way. We don’t want to mention names or anything. Honourable Minister Shamu is not the chairperson of the Media Commission. The Media Commission was legally constituted; the SORC was responsible for interviewing the people in the Media Commission. In that media commission there are people who were recommended by MDC, there are people who were recommended by Zanu PF to be in the media commission. I have the minutes and he (Chikwinya) also has the papers. Everything is in black and white.
Our unfortunate situation is that most of the people who are with ZiFM and Star FM once worked for ZBC. They are doing excellent work now. They have massive listenership but you can’t tell a broadcasting station to say you must be a ‘chinja maitiro’, that’s not it. A broadcasting station is an independent institution with people who have their own editorial policies. Same applies with your station, you have an editorial policy. And it’s unfortunate that their editorial policy differs with that of MDC. That is part of democracy, we cannot all be the same, we differ in views but at the end of the day we must all agree that we are Zimbabweans, we must broadcast from Zimbabwe.
Gonda: Unfortunately Mr. Mudarikwa and Mr. Chikwinya, I’ve run out of time. Thank you very much for talking to us.