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First Zimbabwe Commercial Radio Station Hits Airwaves Amid Questions

Zimbabwe's first commercial radio station started broadcasting on Monday amid concerns its programming may not capture independent views as it is linked to President Robert Mugabe’s party.

Star FM radio, owned by Zimpapers, a government stable that publishes newspapers pushing Zanu PF's agenda, was licensed last year together with ZiFM, which has yet to go on air.

Station manager Admire Taderera said that their programming will include music and news. Star FM ends a three-decade monopoly by the state-operated Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

"People of Zimbabwe, good afternoon," said Taderera over the 24-hour station. "It feels good to be here. For the past 32 years, Zimbabwe has only known one broadcaster - the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

"But last year, Zimbabwe Newspapers were awarded a license to have a national commercial radio station, and today we see the commencement of that broadcast. Our God is beautiful, our God is wonderful."

Taderera announced a team of presenters, mostly former ZBC staffers, including Tich Matambanadzo, Kelvin Sifelani, Innocent Chuma, Munya Milimo, lyanda Kandiero and Steve Vickers, among others.

Media Institute of Southern Africa director Nhlanhla Ngwenya praised Star FM for breaking ZBC’s monopoly, but said he had doubts the station will be independent from its parent company, Zimpapers.

The station had initially been christened Zimbabwe Talk Radio. There was no immediate explanation as to the name change.

The licensing of the two broadcasters last year, ahead of other applicants, one of which was heavily favored by civil society sparked demands for the dissolution of the licensing authority, seen as biased.

Many say Star FM and ZiFM are an extension of the Zanu PF propaganda machinery.

"There is no excitement at all," said Misa chairman, Njabulo Ncube. "This is a perpetuation of ZBC... There was going to be genuine excitement if real new players came on board."

President Mugabe's Zanu PF has maintained a grip on both print and electronic media over the years, shutting out and frustrating potential independent players.

The party was forced to accept reform of the media sector and license private daily newspapers by a power-sharing agreement signed in 2009 that includes the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change.

But observers say true reform in the broadcasting sector has yet to be realized.