/ 5 July 2012

State keeps its hold on airwaves

With national elections likely to be held in the first quarter of next year
With national elections likely to be held in the first quarter of next year

Zimbabwe’s first licensed commercial radio station, Star FM, went live last week, putting an end to the 32-year-old monopoly enjoyed by the state-controlled broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

But its links to the state-owned print-media stable, Zimbabwe Newspapers, has raised questions by observers over its presenters who read bulletins and headlines from the state-owned newspapers.

Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo dismissed Star FM as a viable option to open up Zimbabwe’s airwaves. “It’s an extension of Zanu-PF hegemony … it’s the same Zanu-PF propaganda, just packaged differently”, Nkomo said.

Star FM’s first news bulletin at the launch on Monday reflected the headlines of the state-owned Herald newspaper, which has been the source of the public storm.

Admire Taderera, the head of Star FM and a former deejay for the state broadcaster, said the radio station was committed to sourcing news from all media organisations in the country. “We are not a state broadcaster and we don’t envisage being one. We make our own money from advertising and we are not state-funded”, he said.

Turned down
A second radio station, AB Com­munications, owned by former journalist-cum-Zanu-PF businessperson Supa Mandiwanzira, is expected to go on air next month. But at least three other licence applications by independent journalists and music presenters were turned down, according to Associated Press.

 With national elections likely to be held in the first quarter of next year, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has been fiercely criticised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and its civic partners for granting licences to pro-Zanu-PF bidders. Decades-long efforts to set up community radio stations, such as the donor-funded Radio Dialogue, have been blocked by Zanu-PF, which has resisted opening up the airwaves to players that could spread an anti-Zanu-PF message.

Thomas Tshabalala, the Radio Dialogue director, said: “It is sad to note that this is our 10th year and we have spent it fighting to get a licence. Radio Dialogue is not yet licensed although over the years we have continuously engaged the government without any success.

“No one can imagine that a country that calls itself democratic will take more than 30 years to liberalise the airwaves,” Tshabalala said.