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Concern over information blackout on the details of commercial radio
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
July 18, 2011
the recent invitation by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe
(BAZ) for applications for two "independent" national
radio broadcasting licences that it has offered to make available
to Zimbabwe's aspiring broadcasting community.
invitation towards the end of May, notices of companies applying
for these licences began appearing in the national Press, and it
has been subsequently reported that there are a total of 15
applicants who qualified to be considered.
the notices in the Press inserted by the applicants, interested
Zimbabweans wishing to comment on the applications were invited
to do so within 14 days of the advertisement's publication
by contacting BAZ.
to this invitation in order to seek information about the identities
of the individuals behind the companies applying for the broadcasting
licences and to establish their broadcasting credentials, among
other points of interest.
two separate occasions representatives of this organization were
denied access to any information beyond that published in the Press
on the grounds that it was confidential. The only information about
the applicants in the press notices were the names of the companies
applying and their head office addresses.
Section 10 (3) of the Broadcasting
Services Act " . . . an applicant shall publish his application
in a national newspaper . . . and in a manner and form approved
by the Authority . . . "
press notices were published "in a manner and form approved
by the authority..." But the sparse information provided by
the notices cannot possibly constitute the publication of an application
by any stretch of the imagination.
The Act (Section
10:4) also provides for any member of the public to lodge an objection
to an application with the BAZ within 14 days of the publication
of the application.
It is clear
that the Act intended details of the applications to have been made
public in order to allow Zimbabweans the opportunity to object to
applications they disagreed with.
that in the absence of the necessary information to make intelligent
comments upon the applications, it is incumbent upon the broadcasting
authority to provide it.
information to the public subverts the open and transparent process
of selection intended in the provisions of the Act - and the
right of Zimbabweans to have a say in the selection of these broadcasters.
This is especially
so since the BSA also stipulates that BAZ draws up a shortlist of
applicants and conducts a public inquiry for the purpose of determining
the suitability of the applicants to be licensed.
In drawing up
its short-list, BAZ is also obliged to take into account objections
submitted by the public. However, the public cannot make the necessary
interventions without sufficient information to make an informed
comment. Nor can they participate effectively in the public inquiry.
public such information undermines the intention of the Act to ensure
a transparent and public process in the selection of the broadcasters
and shrouds the entire procedure in secrecy.
the 14 days have already expired and the public remain completely
ignorant about the identities of the applicants and their capacity
to provide an effective national radio broadcasting service. Nor
will we know how BAZ arrived at its short-list of applicants to
attend the public inquiry, or indeed, who these individuals and
organizations are at the time the inquiry is eventually held.
MMPZ calls on
BAZ to make details of the applications public so that Zimbabweans
can participate effectively in the public inquiry, and in order
for the nation to be fully informed about the identity of those
organizations that eventually win the right to broadcast to the
If the authority
continues to deny the people this right it will further undermine
its credibility whose legitimacy is already a subject of dispute
between the parties to Zimbabwe's coalition government. This
followed Media and Information Minister Webster Shamu's unilateral
appointment of the BAZ board in September, 2009, packed with former
military men and allies of President Mugabe's ZANU PF party.
This action violated the letter and spirit of the Global
Political Agreement (GPA), which demands that Mugabe and his
ZANU PF arm of government consult his coalition partners over the
appointment of such national institutions.
MMPZ is concerned
about delays in reconstituting the BAZ board (as well as the boards
of the Mass Media Trust that controls the state-owned Zimpapers
stable of newspapers, and the national public broadcaster, ZBC)
despite reports that Zimbabwe's coalition principals had agreed
to this during one of their Monday meetings in October 2009 (SW
Radio Africa, 8/10/09), and that the parties' negotiators
reinforced this agreement in Cape Town, South Africa, during their
discussions on the terms of an election roadmap in April and May
this year (The Sunday Mail, 5/6/11).
is the media's silence over BAZ's handling of applications
for national commercial broadcasting licences and the fact that
the authority itself should be dissolved and reconstituted with
the participation of all the partners to the coalition government
before it embarks on issuing any new broadcasting licences that
will bring an end to government's illegal monopoly of the
airwaves. Only with the appointment of an independent, credible,
new board, which Zimbabweans can trust, will there be any genuine
reform of Zimbabwe's broadcasting sector.
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