By Nkosana Dlamini
MABVUKU-Tafara legislator, James Maridadi has urged community radio stations to invest more effort towards pursuing political solutions to their licensing demands as opposed to the legal route that has proven ineffective under the Zanu PF led government.
He was giving a keynote address during Friday’s official launch of the “advocating for community radio stations project” by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) working with Amnesty International-Zimbabwe (AIZ), in Harare.
Earlier on, lawyer and media expert, Jacqueline Chikakano had outlined a number of local and international legal instruments which she said could be exhausted by players to force the government to licence them.
But Maridadi, who has led the parliamentary push for a free media in the country, said the legal route alone remained futile if there was no corresponding effort to nudge the authorities within government corridors to play ball.
“We could sit here and talk about legislation and say what parliament has done and what parliament has not done. For as long as we don’t have political will, we will not have community radio stations,” said the MDC-T legislator.
“If you get another President who believes that Zimbabwe should have community radio stations, we will have community radio stations tomorrow, even before they are licenced.”
Maridadi said those pursuing the legal route for the licencing of stations were “barking up the wrong tree”.
“Let’s stop talking about legislation; we are barking up the wrong tree…legislation is there, international conventions are there, the constitution is there but for as long as you have AIPPA, POSA and people that believe that Zimbabwe must not have independent stations, you will never broadcast.”
He said community stations and their allies within the country’s broader civil society should take action that is tailored at directly pressurising President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his regime to license them.
Media trainer and RadioVOP Executive Director, John Masuku urged community radio stations not to fall into the temptation of mimicking national broadcasting stations at the expense of highlighting issues unique to their communities.
“The community is interested in listening to themselves…you have to take cognisance of what exactly your community needs,” Masuku said amid concerns that all the country’s four radio stations broadcasting in English sounded the same.
The veteran broadcaster said community stations would be irrelevant if their programming failed to mirror the different traditional and cultural factors of their localities.
“Come up with programme titles that are unique to the station, talk about issues affecting livelihoods common in the area…research and know the patterns of your listenership,” he said.
Similarly, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe chair, Patience Zirima urged a more focused approach to programming by community stations as she revealed that a great chunk of national radio content is focused on Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare.
KuMakomo community radio coordinator, Trevor Mtisi highlighted continued sustainability challenges among community radio initiatives after government outlawed any foreign funding of local broadcasters.
This, he said, was exacerbated by the continued reluctance by the local communities themselves to fund the stations.
AIZ campaigns and interim manager, Roselina Muzerengi explained the involvement of the world rights group in radio licencing affairs saying that the existence of community radios was a key rights issue as it pertained to access to information.
She called on the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to ensure applications for radio licences are considered at any time of the year as opposed to specific periods often announced by the authorities.
Zacras board chair, Pelargia Kapuya said the campaign was spurred by that “communities need to exercise their freedoms of expression and access to information” while the organisation’s programmes manager, Kudzayi Kwangwari said the sustained radio licencing advocacy shall assume the form of both engagement by the stations at local level and activists at national level.
This he said shall involve “confrontation” such as street marches if engagement processes fail.