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Zimbabwe Takes Botswana to Task Over Foreign Radio News Transmissions

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Foreign Affairs Secretary Joey Bimha as saying Harare objects to the transmission of "hate messages" to Zimbabwe from transmission facilities in Botswana

The Zimbabwean government is reported to have said it will lodge a diplomatic protest with neighboring Botswana for allowing what Harare calls "pirate" radio stations to transmit into Zimbabwe from its soil.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper, closely aligned with the former ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugae, quoted Foreign Affairs Secretary Joey Bimha as saying Harare objects to the transmission of what Bimha called "hate messages" to Zimbabwe from transmission facilities in Botswana.

VOA Studio 7 broadcasts to Zimbabwe over a medium-wave or AM transmitter in Botswana whose signal Harare has jammed since mid-2006. The nightly program is also broadcast over three shortwave frequencies.

Bimha said the foreign-based stations, which include London-based Short Wave Radio Africa, jeopardize the power-sharing unity government established in February by ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change, one led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The issue of foreign-based stations was included in the September 2008 Global Political Agreement, which said Zimbabwean operators of such stations should be encouraged to return and broadcast from Zimbabwean soil. But managers of such stations including SW Radio Africa founder Gerry Jackson say media reform has not progressed far enough to make such a move advisable.

ZANU-PF has raised the issue of what it calls "pirate" stations, as well as that of Western travel and financial sanctions or restrictions on Mr. Mugabe and many other ZANU-PF officials, in response to MDC complaints that it has not adhered to the terms of the power-sharing pact in numerous respects.

Harare's démarche in Gaborone comes as negotiators for the unity government parties are reportedly agreed to accelerate lagging media reform.

Media commentator Francis Mdlongwa, former editor of the Financial Gazette in Harare and now director of the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership at Rhodes University, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that the foreign stations issue is a red herring to draw attention from more pressing issues.

Meanwhile, the British Broadcasting Corporation made its first live broadcast from Zimbabwe in a decade on Wednesday as BBC Radio 5 Live host Victoria Derbyshire went on air from the Meikles Hotel in Harare.

BBC editor Lois Crompton told VOA that there were no government restrictions whatsoever on the content of the lengthy broadcast.