Zim says no to licences for foreign broadcasters

Zimbabwe will not allow foreigners to own broadcasting stations but could relax rules and licence locals who have been battling to meet stringent requirements, the information minister said on Monday.

“On the issue of ownership we cannot compromise,” Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told a committee of lawmakers.

“Why should a foreigner want to own a voice in Zimbabwe? The government policy on broadcasting seeks to achieve strategic goals. We seek to expose those we perceive as adversaries and win over those we see as useful allies.

“Broadcasting seeks to build national cohesion, consensus and defence, especially this time when the country’s sovereignty is being challenged by our erstwhile colonisers.”

Zimbabwe passed tough media laws in 2002, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which has been invoked to expel foreign correspondents, shut down four newspapers and emasculate a once-vibrant independent press.

Broadcasting laws passed in 2003 have protected the monopoly of state television and radio, which echo the voice of veteran President Robert Mugabe’s government.

Although the law allows private companies to operate radio and television stations, prospective broadcasters have been hamstrung by stringent licensing requirements, including a clause that disallows foreign funding for local media companies.

Ndlovu said the government was considering relaxing the laws in favour of potential local broadcasters.

“We will continue inviting applications and if they continue to fail and they are capable Zimbabweans, we will consider softening the licensing criteria,” he said.

Last month, lawmakers from Zimbabwe’s main opposition struck a compromise with the government on constitutional reforms to allow joint legislative and presidential polls next year but called for a revamp of the country’s media laws.

Alleged coup

Meanwhile, A Zimbabwean court on Monday postponed hearing a case against six men accused of trying to topple Mugabe after the prosecution said it was not ready.

“The accused persons are warned to attend court on October 29,” magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini said at a hearing in Harare.

The men’s lawyer, Charles Warara, told the court he would apply at the next court date for refusal of further remand for his clients, who have been in detention since their arrest in June on coup-plot charges.

“I ask the Attorney General’s representative that they be present when I make the application,” Warara said.

The six men, including a retired soldier, Alfred Matapo, were arrested in June over an alleged attempt to topple 83-year-old Mugabe and replace him with Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa is among those seen as Mugabe’s possible successors.

The prosecution said Matapo conspired with the other suspects and recruited various members of the security forces in preparation for the alleged coup.

Matapo allegedly planned to incite soldiers to take over the government and later declare himself interim ruler before installing Mnangagwa as president.

They have denied the charges through their lawyers, saying they were discussing the formation of a new political party when security agents barged into their meeting in the capital and arrested them.

In June, a high court judge denied the suspects bail, saying there were fears they could flee.—AFP

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