Senior officials of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe told Parliament Thursday that the regulatory agency lacks the capacity to monitor new commercial radio stations as the law requires, raising a question mark over the licensing of new players in the sector.
In testimony to Parliament’s committee on media and information about moves by the broadcasting entity to open up the country's airwaves, BAZ Chairman Tafataona Mahoso and Chief Executive Officer Obert Maganyura said they are now using rudimentary equipment and will face challenges once new players launch radio stations.
They said it would take US$3 million to properly monitor new broadcasters.
They noted that the authority has no funds, explaining that this was the reason for the US$7,500 fee license application fee levied on would-be commercial broadcasters.
But Advocacy Officer Tabani Moyo of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe dismissed that explanation saying BAZ is simply reiterating the position of the Ministry of Information that it is premature to open up Zimbabwe’s airwaves to private radios.
Moyo said the current holder of four commercial radio and two television licenses – the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – is not paying any regulatory fees. The state-run broadcaster is given to pro-ZANU-PF propaganda and hymns to President Mugabe.
Mahoso did not provide a clear answer when asked when licenses would be issued, He said the 15 applications received to date were now being evaluated.
Critics of Mahoso, who has been called Zimbabwe's "media hangman" for his role in the 2003 closure of the Daily News, since resurrected under the unity government, say that the issue of monitoring begs the question of why the broadcast regulator must monitor new players at all, or why it can't simply require them to record programs.
For perspective, VOA Studio 7 reporter Tatenda Gumbo spoke with economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe and Program Manager Pedzisai Ruhanya of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
Ruhanya said broadcast liberalization is not about money but about political will.