Zimbabwe radio bosses charged under tough laws

Five directors of an independent radio station in Zimbabwe were charged on Tuesday with breaching the country’s controversial broadcasting laws, a media watchdog told Agence France-Presse.

“Members of the board of directors for the Voice of the People (VOP) radio station appeared in court today on charges of contravening the Broadcasting Services Act,” said Nyasha Nyakunu, spokesperson for the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Arnold Tsunga, Millie Phiri, Isabella Matambanadzo, David Masunda and Nhlanhla Ngwenya arrested on Tuesday and briefly detained at Harare’s main police station.

They were accused of possessing and operating transmission equipment without a licence.

A magistrate’s court in Harare released them on a bail of four million Zimbabwe dollars ($44,4) bail and ordered them to report back to court for remand on February 10.

Under the strict broadcasting laws passed in 2001, radio stations are required to register with a government-appointed board.

A breach of the laws attracts a five-million-dollar penalty or a jail term of up two years.

John Masuku, the director of the VOP radio station, was arrested on similar charges last year and released after four days.

On December 15, plainclothes police ransacked the radio station’s offices in central Harare, arrested staffers Maria Nyanyiwa, Takunda Chigwanda and Nyasha Bosha and held them in cells for four days.

VOP broadcasts into Zimbabwe on shortwave from its transmitter in Madagascar. Its offices were firebombed in August 2002.

The shortwave radio station is one of only two independent broadcasters which have managed to circumvent Zimbabwe’s repressive media laws by using transmitters outside the country to carry their programmes on shortwave.

Most of VOP’s programming is in Zimbabwe’s two main languages—Shona and Ndebele—placing it among the few independent media able to reach the large rural population who have no access to newspapers.

Zimbabwe has four radio stations and one television station all controlled by the government.

Media and rights groups have condemned laws invoked to shut down independent broadcast stations as an instrument to enforce a state monopoly on the airwaves. - Sapa-AFP

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