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Govt bans donations for community radio stations

By Gibson Nyikadzino

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe), today on World Radio Day commemorations, said government’s recently gazetted Statutory Instrument (SI)27/2020 is a ploy to decentralise state broadcaster ZBC by denying communities a right to access to information at community level through banning donations towards community radio establishment.

SI27/2020 sets community radio application fees at a non-refundable $8 500 which is USD$500 equivalent at Bank Rate while the basic license fee for ten years has been set at  $17 000,00 per annum which is USD$1000 equivalent at bank rate.

In the review of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), government in December 2018 said it is outlawing the donations towards establishment of community radio stations.

MISA-Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo said the regulations that have been put by government are meant to stifle competition so that government becomes the major stakeholder in the broadcasting industry.

“It is quite unfortunate. Take a community as poor as Tsholotsho rural, Binga and Beitbridge where there are humanitarian crises yet those are the communities government expect to pay such exorbitant fees. If they want to help the situation, there has to be clarity. 

“Government wants to create an environment conducive for them to elbow competitors from the sector and then ‘compete’ alone. If under-serviced communities are to apply for licences it means they are just putting money into government’s pocket because government does not want competition.

By outlawing donations through the BSA, government is suffocating and blocking prospective support because they also said they have money to establish community radios,” said Moyo.

The MISA-Zimbabwe head urged government to consider regional and international standards that recognise setting of community radios.   

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The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) also expressed concern over the newly gazetted community radio application fees which they said are neither “within reach” nor “nominal.”

At this year’s World Radio Day commemorations in Gweru, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) announced it will in the “next few days” make a public call for the submission of applications for community radio stations and television services licenses.

BAZ said priority will be given to under-serviced areas.

ZACRAS director Ms. Vivian Marara said her organisation is skeptical about the government’s elitist approach in framing regulation. 

“From our assessment, Zimbabwe’s community broadcasting fees rank amongst the highest in Africa. In Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, and Kenya, community radio application fees range between USD$10 equivalent local currency and USD$250 equivalent local currency.

With regards to annual fees, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, Lesotho and Kenya charge between USD$136 equivalent local currency and USD$$540 equivalent local currency.

“We are however skeptical about the prescriptive and elitist approach of the regulations in relation to the composition of the community radio governing body.

The prescribed composition leaves out ordinary community members who might not fall in any of the categories,” said Ms. Marara.

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