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Statement following the submission of broadcasting licence applications
August 12, 2011

MISA-Zimbabwe is concerned by the deafening silence surrounding the processing of applications for the two commercial radio broadcasters by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) advertised on 26 May 2011.

Since the submission of applications by 14 aspiring broadcasters and the subsequent publication of the applicants' names in the media, there has been no update on the progress of the adjudication process. To date, BAZ has not published a comprehensive list of the applicants. Neither has it furnished the public with useful details of directorship and ownership of respective companies that applied, which would have assisted the public in making objections as required under the broadcasting law. Although BAZ has no legal obligation to do this, the issue is of public interest of which it should apprise the nation to ensure transparency and build public confidence in the whole licensing process.

What makes it more imperative for BAZ to keep the nation updated on this matter, is the fact that there are no clear timelines stipulated in the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) under which the regulatory board should shortlist successful applicants; conduct public hearings on their applications and finally license them. It is entirely up to BAZ to determine the time within which these processes have to be completed. In the absence of legal timeframes within which BAZ must conclude the licensing process, there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure the regulatory board speedily issues licenses.

MISA-Zimbabwe also notes that even if the new broadcasters were to be eventually licensed, this may not necessarily translate to the provision of alternative information to the citizenry due to the stipulated content restrictions in BSA. By their very nature private broadcasters are profit oriented and therefore need to structure their programming in a manner that attracts listenership, thereby drawing advertising revenue. Therefore, they need to operate within a framework that accords them considerable editorial autonomy for their sustainability.

However, the current operating framework as stipulated under the repressive the BSA imposes content requirements that interfere with their independence. Among these are the compulsory 75% quota for local content; the allocation of an hour of broadcasting space per week to government and the stipulations on airing of political and electoral matters.

For example, in terms of Part II of the Fifth schedule of the BSA a broadcaster is required to report to BAZ and keep records of any broadcast of a political matter. According to the interpretation clause, a political matter is "any political matter, including the policy lunch of a political party". This definition is so vague to the extent that it can cover a broad spectrum of the broadcasters' content. Restrictions such as these are bound to compromise private broadcasters' role as independent sources of alternative information.

It is for this reason that MISA-Zimbabwe reiterates its calls for the repeal of the BSA and its replacement with a democratic law that will ensure transparency in the licensing process as well as promote the establishment of a three-tier broadcasting system, which will allow Zimbabweans to freely express themselves and access information of their choice.

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