By Byron Mutingwende
There is a compelling need to license community radio stations, Amnesty International Zimbabwe (AIZ) and the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) have said.
The calls emerged at the launch of the project spearheaded by the two organisations to advocate for the licensing of community radio stations as a matter of urgency.
“ZACRAS continues to take a leading role in advocating for the licensing of community radio in Zimbabwe. They are calling for the nationalisation of the community broadcasting agenda through having the whole of Zimbabwe to accept the concept and the need for community radios in Zimbabwe. It is doing its best in trying to make the government acknowledge that community broadcasting is a real need in the country thus leading policymakers to promise to license community radios although there has not been political will leading to practical action.
“ZACRAS continuously supports the establishment and growth of 28 Community radio initiatives. It is developing the proposed regulatory framework for community broadcasting in Zimbabwe and continues to promote the access to information and freedom of expression to communities through various alternative media platforms, even in the absence of licensing,” said Roselina Muzerengi, the AIZ Campaigns and Interim Manager.
Muzerengi said, at policy level, the project would engage with stakeholders for policy change and regulatory reform on community radio licensing and lawful operation of community radios. At local level the project targets key local community leaders and civil society stakeholders. The project will also educate the public and selected target communities on the importance of community radio in prompting human rights associated with freedom of information and expression and will bring them into CRIs operation and activities. It will address CRI capacity issues in respect of governance, organisational development, results oriented radio content, sustainability and advocacy for eventual licensing.
Pelargia Kapuya, the ZACRAS Board chairperson said the two organisations were inspired and motivated by the provisions of article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, article 9 of the African charter on Human and Peoples rights as well as sections 61 and 62 of the Zimbabwean constitution, hence decided to jointly put together a two-year project whose main aim is to scale up the advocacy work on community radio licensing in Zimbabwe.
“By so doing we are oblivious of the role and benefits of community broadcasting which among others include development and democracy promotion. We are aware of how community radio can play a critical role in promoting citizen access to information and freedom of expression,” Kapuya said.
She emphasised on the need to strengthen the capacity of member community radio initiatives currently under the banner of the association and advocate for the improvement of the operational environment including licensing.
While there are promises by various government officials to license community radio stations there is disappointment over the apparent lack of political will to implement the constitution in that regard.
“It is our position that 17 years after the promulgation of the Broadcasting Services Act, there is no material obstacle which stops the licensing of community radios and we view this as a deliberate attempt to criminalise freedom of expression and access to information as witnessed in the past when many of our community radio practitioners have been arbitrarily arrested or targeted.”
In her analysis of the legislative framework currently in place for community radios, gaps and opportunities governing community radio licensing, media law expert Jacqueline Chikakano outlined various laws that were inconsistent with the Constitution.
“The Broadcasting Services Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) are yet to be aligned with the constitution to reflect the expanded scope of freedom of expression and the newly introduced rights, that is, media freedom, freedom of establishment of broadcasters, protection of journalists sources of information and right of access to information. For example, the BSA licensing framework has restrictions on foreign funding, contributions, shareholding, licensing procedure that are not in sync with the freedom of establishment of broadcasters now envisaged in the constitution. This extends to the continued discretion of BAZ to decide when to call for licence applications. These restrictions do not pass the constitutional requirement that the licensing procedure must be “necessary”. Ultimately, the regulatory framework for community and other broadcasters must be flexible enough to allow broadcasters to enjoy the full scope of rights outlined in Section 61 of the Constitution,” Chikakano said.
Currently, there are no measures at law to compel BAZ to make the invitation for licences hence community broadcasters remain unlicensed, undermining their freedom of establishment. Chikakano regretted the fact that criminalisation of expression persists. Section 64, 80 (AIPPA) 31, 33 (Criminal Code). These limit freedom of expression and of the media as envisaged in section 61. Criminalisation does not pass the necessity , fairness and reasonable requirements that should be met by all laws limiting rights (section 86) and pointed out by the constitutional court already.
Against this background, the stakeholders urged the government of President Emerson Mnangagwa, to urgently take steps to democratise the process of establishing a truly independent regulatory body; put in place a democratic regulatory framework for community broadcasting which promotes growth and flourishing of community radio in Zimbabwe; publicly embrace community radio and support them as is the case in other countries where they even receive government grants; and create a conducive operational environment for the community radios.
Patience Zirima, the Chairperson of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) said what makes community radio attractive is that it is centred around local people and how they produce, broadcast and participate in the running of their own stations.
She bemoaned the fact that in a study conducted by MAZ on how poverty issues are reported in the media in 2016, it emerged that the majority of stories written on poverty were generic and focused on national issues with statements from government officials dominating.
“Stories focusing on specific localities were recorded in 51 percent of cases, with 22 percent on local urban areas, 21 percent on rural and 8 percent on peri-urban areas. Another study we conducted in 2015 on what geographical locations are covered by media shows that statistically, Harare Province has the highest number of stories in the news media with nearly half of news articles focusing on harare, at 46%. This is followed by Bulawayo Province, the subject of 15% of the news articles,” Zirima said.
She added that Manicaland (the second largest province in the country) was covered in 10% of the stories, less than a quarter of Harare. The remaining seven provinces shared the remaining 29%.
In that respect, community radios help to make sure local voices are heard in public spaces; issues that affect differnet communities can be prominently featured and that voices of previously marginalised groups can find an outlet.
James Maridadi, the Member of the House of Assembly for Mabvuka-Tafara officially launched the project and together with other veteran journalists John Masuku and Killian Butu encouraged community radio communities to be innovative in broadcasting news that affect local communities in promoting sustainable development.