No more radio licences to be issued: BAZ
allocated to Zimbabwe have been exhausted, Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mr Obert Muganyura has said.
He also said no foreign-funded radio stations will be licensed to offer services in Zimbabwe.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology, Mr Muganyura said licences recently issued to Zimpapers’ Talk Radio and AB Communications had completed national radio services on the Frequency Modulation broadcasting band.
He was responding to questions from committee chairman, Mbizo legislator Mr Settlement Chikwinya (MDC-T), if there was going to be more national commercial radio licences to be issued to other broadcasters.
Mr Muganyura said the International Telecommunications Union had already done the planning before use system (apriori) for the Frequency Modulation broadcasting band.
“There is no way forward in terms of going beyond the six national stations except for television where there is a chance for more when we migrate from analogue to digital,” Mr Muganyura said.
“For the FM broadcasting band, apriori planning has already been done and they came up with six frequencies per site, which translates to six national radio services.”
He said BAZ had already invited 14 applications for local commercial radio services in urban centres with a radius of 40km coverage adding that there was still room for more services.
It is understood that frequency for services of national coverage are high in power to the extent that there is a limit on the number of usable frequencies that can be obtained from the band.
Mr Chikwinya said his committee will consider suggesting withdrawal of the frequencies currently being used by ZBC.
However, this will be in breach of the Broadcasting Services Act that gave the national broadcaster a “grandfather” clause that allowed the public broadcaster to retain its frequencies.
Earlier on, Media, Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu, told the same committee that: “Demand for diverse local content broadcast in local languages means that Zimbabwe cannot go the easy way of simply licensing ‘false’ broadcast stations which in reality are mere relay stations for foreign broadcasters and programmes.”
Minister Shamu also said his ministry will only implement suggestions and recommendations that were in compliance with the law.
He was commenting on allegations that the BAZ and ZBC boards were improperly constituted as insinuated by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.
Minister Shamu said there had been confusion after appointment of the BAZ board.
“Unfortunately this confusion lay elsewhere in the realm of politics, with no one approaching the ministry for clarification and guidance,” Minister Shamu said.
“The consequence of this not-always-well- informed discussion were mistaken communications which pretended to carry the aura of directives, mainly from persons who are not given status as persons by the relevant law.
“The ZBC and BAZ boards are properly constituted according to the law. The minister appoints the ZBC board therefore the issue of political interests doesn’t come into play.
“It will be unlawful to make political appointments. We can’t work against Government policy because there is nowhere it is stated that the board should be appointed along political lines.”
He said the law has specific provisions that were supposed to be followed in appointing the BAZ board. Minister Shamu said these provisions had been followed.
The law, Minister Shamu said, solicited for skills and not interest group representation as has been suggested by some quarters.
Minister Shamu presented correspondence between his Ministry and Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee that confirmed the appointment of the BAZ board was done according to the law.
He said the law mandated BAZ to invite applications for licences while qualifying the same board’s discretion in the determination of issuance of licenses.
Minister Shamu said interviews for two national commercial radio licences given to Zimpapers Talk Radio and AB Communications had been properly done and dismissed complaints raised by some of the losing bidders.
He said the amendment of the Broadcasting Services Act in 2007 allowed cross-media ownership that opened an opportunity for Zimpapers to apply for a radio licence.
Minister Shamu said there was need for Zimbabweans to judge the editorial content of the two licensees when they go on air.
“Besides, there is no clause in the law or GPA which requires that a given station be similar or different from an existing one.
“That is a market consideration and I, as minister, cannot be made to deal with what is a matter of business decision by the licensee. To do so is to interfere with the editorial and business decisions of a broadcast enterprise. Sir, I have no wish to do that,” Minister Shamu said.
He also bemoaned Treasury’s reluctance to fund ZBC as envisaged by the law.
Minister Shamu said the public broadcaster was now relying on advertisements even on national assignments that were supposed to be funded by Government.
He dismissed assertions that the proliferation of satellite television was tantamount to rejection of ZBC.
Minister Shamu also defended ZBC licence fees saying they were cheaper than subscriptions paid to Multichoice for DSTV services per month.
Mr Chikwinya alleged that ZBC did not give fair coverage to all the political parties in the inclusive Government.
In response, Media, Information and Publicity secretary, Mr George Charamba, said his ministry was there to make sure Government business was covered by the media.
“The ministry doesn’t handle requests for political coverage, it’s squarely on ZBC’s latitude and that can be exercised when they are told in advance. The ministry comes in on Government business. We become politically blind when it comes to Government business,” Mr Charamba said.
ZBC chief executive officer, Mr Happison Muchechetere, also dismissed allegations that the broadcaster was shunning other political parties.
He said the public broadcaster relies on Government diaries that come through the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity.
Mr Muchechetere said sometimes political parties did not send their diaries to the broadcaster while some of their staff has been attacked when covering political meetings of certain parties.