Community Radio Gets ZANU PF Promises, Not Much Else
Radio Zimbabwe Studios in the teeming Harare township of Mbare: the government gave promises to a delegation from the Community Radio Stations Association, but the promises and the demands give away the game: no licences will be coming any time soon and when they do, how the radio stations operate will be tightly controlled, just as Mugabe tightly controls news out of Zim.
Harare, Zimbabwe, 20 August 2009
A delegation from the Community Radio Association met today with the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, ZANU PF's Webster Shamu (who famously said in June that he does not take orders from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai).
They got promises and had a few more obstacles put in their way, but they had hit such rock bottom before this that they consider the empty promises from ZANU PF to be worth something.
First, they were told that the issue of their being licenced was being looked into (as it has been ever since Gerry Jackson and her crew were hounded out of Zimbabwe by Mugabe for daring to broadcast).
But, the hurdle thrown in their way was that they should not base their licence applications on their geographic locations, or the areas from which the intend to broadcast.
Instead, they must base their eventual applications on their content! Shamu masked the true intention of this move by mentioning religious interests and other sectarian issues.
But what the Association of Community Radio Stations seem not to be wise to is the fact that this provision will allow the government to sit on them even harder.
First, the licences they submit will have to state what sort of content they will be broadcasting. If they are a catholic radio station, then they must state this. If they intend to launch a station for Chartered Accountants, they must also state this.
You see where this is going?
Government will enforce what is written on that licence, that is the first thing. Second, any community radio station applying to have a licence to broadcast "news" will be thrown out on its ear.
Just like Mugabe did when he briefly allowed an independent TV station (JOY TV) to operate, he will forbid the stations from dabbling in news.
The minister also told the Association today that they must clearly state how they will be funded (to allow those issuing licences to gauge whether the licence holder will have enough funds of their own to run the stations).
Any mention of the hated NGO will result in the licence being rejected.
The Principal Director in the Shamu Ministry told reporters today, "government will look into the issue of foreign funding for community radio stations but any foreign investor should not control the content."
Who will be the judge of this? Government, obviously. And this is a government where all news out of Zimbabwe is controlled tightly through the Herald and the ZBC/TV organisations.
Any funny stuff from foreign journalists is met with immediate deportation, as happened to Andrew Meldrum, who was kicked out regardless of the fact that he is a Zimbabwean. He was white and his citizenship was obviously revoked on that basis.
Surprisingly, the delegation from the Association of Community Radio Stations thinks the meeting was a good one. They do not see just how the barriers being put in their way by Robert Mugabe will make it impossible for any community radio station to exercise true free speech.
Chris Mhike, who led the delegation, was delighted to have been given an audience and he told the media today, "there is need for prospective radio station operators to carry out surveys to establish what their listeners want to hear."
Correct. But that is a purely humdrum business decision, which any business worth its salt will undertake, so that they align their product to what their clients want.
That such a thing is now being done on the orders of a government that has a habit of tightly controlling news and information from Zimbabwe is cause for concern, but the Association seems to have missed this.
What if the radio station is based in Mutare? Will they allowed to broadcast residents' concerns about the looting of diamonds from Chiadzwa? If their listeners say in the survey they want to hear about what the army is doing at the diamond fields, will they be allowed to fulfil this request?
We will still be talking about "prospective Community Radio Stations this time next year."
Mugabe has a tight hold on two key areas (key for him and any challenger): media and the armed forces.
This is why he moved very swiftly to put Chamisa, the MDC-T Minister of Information Communication Technology in his place, making it clear that he had no role to play in managing the almost entirely state owned media in the country.
It all stinks to high heaven and the Inclusive Government can do nothing about any of this because Mugabe remains firmly in charge.