ZACRAS Commentary on Community Broadcasting Developments in Zimbabwe

Introduction

On the 21st of February 2020, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) for the first time since the enactment of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) of 2001 invited the submission of applications by those wishing to establish community broadcasting services in Zimbabwe.

The invitation for community broadcasting applications came after 19 years of protracted lobby and advocacy interventions by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) together with other media stakeholders. The invitation for the submission of community radio applications was on its own a progressive milestone towards the democratic transformation of the broadcasting sector in Zimbabwe. We therefore commend the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services for listening to stakeholder concerns.

Recently, on the 18 th of March 2020 to be specific, BAZ extended the deadline for submission of applications for community broadcasting services from 20 March 2020 to 29 May 2020. As ZACRAS, we welcome and appreciate this decision made by BAZ as it positively responds to concerns raised by prospective applicants and stakeholders as quoted in media reports. As indicated by some of the prospective applicants, one month was not enough to enable them to lodge competitive bids because of the technical requirements of the applications. We therefore also, commend BAZ for listening to concerns raised by stakeholders.

This is the first time that ordinary Zimbabweans will be submitting applications to operate broadcasting entities, as such, preparations by the community applicants require ample time. We anticipate that the extension will enable more players to better prepare and submit competitive applications.

ZACRAS takes this time to also commend the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services for playing an active role in seeking to continuously engage BAZ regarding community broadcasting developments in Zimbabwe, as witnessed by the appearances of BAZ in Parliament to address the Committee. We look forward to seeing how BAZ will address concerns raised by the Committee.

Work done by ZACRAS since the time of the invitation for applications

We are delivering this statement on a day which coincides with the initial deadline for submission of community broadcasting services applications and would like to outline ZACRAS’ interventions till date, our concerns as well as recommendations to both BAZ and the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.

Our work focused on the following:

1. We sought clarification from BAZ regarding some reservations we had with the call as well as the community radio regulations that were gazetted.

Amongst the issues that we raised was:

a) The narrow definition of a community prescribed in the community radio regulations which only focuses on geography and not interest.

b) The issue of high application fees.

c) Clarification on BAZ’s working definition for a body corporate.

d) Concerns on the inclusion of law and order as well as local and traditional leadership in the community radio governing body more so noting the partisan interests that some of these entities have historically displayed.

e) Focus of the call on only 10 areas found in selected urban, peri-urban and rural areas and the exclusion of other areas. This is of course contrary to the frequency allotment plan which allocates more than 10 frequencies for community radios.

2. Apart from our engagement with BAZ, we have further assisted our members and other prospective applicants who have sought our help with technical expertise and advice.

Concerns

As Zimbabwe is preparing to license the first 10 community radios, there are widespread fears that similar to historical developments, licensing will be done based on partisan considerations. This could possibly be one reason why the application form requests to know issues of political affiliation. Furthermore, fears of infiltration by state agents continue to subsist hence the reason ZACRAS is wary of the inclusion of law and order in the governing body of community radios.

ZACRAS reiterates that CRIs are autonomous entities who are owned, run and controlled by local communities and do not need authorities to interfere. Each and every community should be given an equal and fair opportunity to submit and have their application judged on merit.

ZACRAS is further concerned by the licensing framework whereby 2 areas in 2 different provinces are made to compete for one license- a case in point being Kariba which is in Mashonaland West and Binga which is Matabeleland North Province.

Recommendations

Guided by the above, ZACRAS recommends the following to BAZ and the Ministry of Information for redress:

  1. Noting the expansive definition of a body corporate which is not only limited to companies but also includes Associations and Trusts, the need to review Section 6 of the application form which requires information on shareholding structure.
  2. The need for the review of the application form, particularly Section 7, which requires disclosure of one’s political party as queried by members of the Portfolio Committee when BAZ made submissions before them.
  3. The need for a continuation of conversations relating to an adjustment on the application fees and annual fees for community radios which have been set at $8,500 local currency and $17,000 local currency, respectively. Already, there are indications from some of the prospective applicants that the fees are quite high and as such a deterring factor which may inhibit some of the aspiring communities from applying given the current economic adversities.
  4. The need for clear guidelines from the Government of Zimbabwe of mechanisms in place to support the development of the community broadcasting sector with reference to capacity enhancement post the licensing period and financial support which we hope will be channelled through a government grant and independently managed.
  5. The need for a clear position on equipment provision plans vis avis the role of stakeholders such as Transmedia.

While on one hand ZACRAS welcomes the extension of the deadline for the submission of applications, we still anticipate that BAZ will issue a further call for applications within this fiscal year as the need for community radios is of paramount importance in all districts of Zimbabwe. Gradually, the situation that we anticipate and hope for is for community radio applicants to submit applications as and when ready without necessarily having to wait for a call. Readiness and preparedness should be a preserve of communities as and when they intend to have their
community radio stations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as a country, we need to start to plan for the post licensing capacity enhancement interventions targeting community radios. ZACRAS remains a committed strategic partner in community radio development and stands ready to partner the Government of Zimbabwe in developing the community broadcasting sector, including offering technical expertise and assistance to would be broadcasting applicants.

Source: Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS)