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Crisis Report - Issue 241
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
November 26
, 2013

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Civil society assesses BAZ’s call for broadcasting licence applications

Civil society has welcomed the call by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) for applications for commercial radio licenses, but noted that the existing broadcasting laws and licensing framework are not conducive for a free press.

Speaking to the Crisis Report on Monday, November 25, Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe) Director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the call for applications by BAZ was relevant to the goal of media diversity, but happening under a discredited legal framework that limits press freedom.

“Our main concern is that they will be regulated under the same laws, which are not conducive to a free media environment,” Ngwenya said.

“The regulatory framework, Broadcasting Services Act under which they are calling for the applications, also prohibits media organisations partially or wholly owned by foreigners.

“We have been calling for the Broadcasting Services Act to be revised.”

Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) in a statement said it had reasons not to be over-confident of the government’s intentions, although it welcomed the decision to call for applications.

“While MMPZ welcomes this invitation, there are several reasons why we remain skeptical of the sincerity of government’s intention to genuinely free the air-waves,” the statement read. “Chief among them is the fact that BAZ is inviting applications under the same old discredited legal and institutional framework.

“For instance, the BSA, under which the applications were invited, contains restrictive provisions that appear to contravene the letter and spirit of the new Constitution.”

Apart from the stringent funding parameters for applicants, MMPZ doubted the impartiality of the BAZ as a licensing authority, and the manner in which the body was appointed during in the Inclusive Government (IG).

“The legitimacy of BAZ itself has been a subject of serious debate, as the Media and Information Minister at the time, Webster Shamu, unilaterally appointed it in September, 2009 during the existence of the coalition government,” MMPZ said.

“Notably, the BAZ board he constituted was packed with former military men and Zanu-PF allies, thus compromising its independence from political influence.

“MMPZ remains concerned that despite common agreement during the period of the coalition government soon after its formation that BAZ and other media boards required reform and was a pre-requisite for the holding of national elections.

“The new Zanu-PF government no longer considers this a priority before the issuing of new broadcasting licenses.”

MMPZ said the concerns derived especially from BAZ’s previous partisan handling of applications for national broadcasting licenses, which resulted in the controversial licensing of Zimbabwe’s first two private commercial radio stations.

ZiFM stereo owned by businessman-cum-deputy minister in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Supa Mandiwanzira, and Star FM owned by State-owned Zimpapers were licensed amid criticism of BAZ’s alleged bias in November 2011.

“MMPZ believes the authority bent the regulations regarding the transparency and accountability of this process by not disclosing the type of scoring system and related criteria employed in evaluating prospective broadcasters.

“We are of the view that BAZ acted irrationally in awarding licences to Star FM, in which the state has a controlling stake, and ZiFM, which was run and owned by a prominent Zanu-PF member, as this en-trenches Zanu-PF’s monopoly of the broadcasting sector.”

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