By Sebastin Mhofu
Amnesty International says the Zimbabwe government's stranglehold on radio in the country and its refusal to issue licenses to those without links to the ruling party is a ploy to stifle freedom of expression.
Since 2001, when the monopoly of the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings legally ended, no independent radio stations have been allowed to operate.
Only two companies – one owned by a government minister and another belonging to a state-owned media company -- have been issued radio station permits.
Now, Amnesty International has released a report detailing what it calls a crackdown on those who have been campaigning for the licensing of community radio stations.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty's director for southern Africa, said his organization had four recommendations to Harare on community radio stations. The first one being to ensure that Zimbabweans enjoy freedom of expression in line with the country’s constitution.
“Second, we are saying the issuing of licences must not be done in secrecy. The third recommendation is about removing the barriers in financial terms, which arises by imposition of punitive fees structures for those who wish to establish community radio stations. Finally we are looking at parliament carrying out its constitutional mandate in the community radio sector. There should be revision of any obstacle that still lie in the statute books so that Zimbabweans can enjoy their freedom of expression.”
On Tuesday, Jonathan Moyo, information minister told parliament that more radio licenses would be issued this year. On community radio licences he said:
“The question has been with us for sometime. We all have been reading in the media that there are all sorts of people out there who sort to pre-occupy this space, although it is not something that has come to the national agenda as a result of some activism out there. Individuals have set themselves up as communities and they are calling themselves community radio this, community radio that, there are all sorts of associations that are claiming to be community radios.”
That is reference to Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) which has been mobilising communities to apply community radio stations.
Minister Moyo said the jury was still out on what is a community radio in Zimbabwe. Until that debate is closed; he said no community radio stations would be issued.
Kudzai Kwangwari from ZACRAS says Harare is afraid of dissenting views so no community radio licence will be issued anytime soon.
"It takes away the political capital, which is ignorance from the government. When the community where platforms where they can share information, that enriches their understanding and appreciation of issues, then they cannot be cheated and be bulled by politicians. So they are afraid of informed citizenry. So for that they are trying to buffer the free flow of information."
According to Amnesty International, at least 28 independent community radio initiatives in Zimbabwe are waiting to be licensed. Some of the people involved in the initiatives have been attacked the authorities for trying to promote imperialists’ agenda.