When will Robert Mugabe free the airwaves?

OPINION – Pressure is building up on the Zimbabwe regime to free the airwaves amidst the dishing out by the Zimbabwe Media Commission of newspaper licences like confetti than previously anticipated. Notably, by 15 April, a total of 22 publications had been licensed since last year although no private radio or television station has been licensed as the same time.

While welcoming the diversity of the print media, experts are concerned that some of the new publications are being set up to ‘prop up a government whose fortunes are waning by the day’ (The Daily News, Free the airwaves now, 15/04/11).

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Of interest has been the licensing of the National Day and the Patriot. The former is said to be owned by the late businessman Roger Boka’s family, however, there are claims that it is being financed by the Chinese Government and Zanu-pf Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa (The Zimbabwe Mail, 17/02/11). Sources say The Patriot is owned by Supa Mandiwanzira another Mugabe ally.

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Women Affairs Deputy Minister Jessie Majome has said the inclusive government has failed Zimbabweans by continuously depriving rural populations of their right to freedom of expression and association by its reluctance to free the airwaves and licence new radio stations (Zimeye, 01/09/10).

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Subsequently, agitation for the freeing of the airwaves has gradually increased at a time when there is talk of possible elections. Freeing the airwaves would tremendously benefit the country’s majority rural population some whose radio sets were confiscated by bthe CIO and the police.

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Furthermore, alternative independent radio stations have been jammed by the regime’s security agents something that is likely to increase in the run-up to the referendum and elections unless SADC prevails on Zanu-pf.

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Adding their voices to the campaign was a coalition of civil society organisations in Zimbabwe called CISSOM. In a report covering the period February 2010 to February 2011 the Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism (CISSOM) condemned the status of the radio and television sector. CISSOM accused public broadcasters of ‘aggressively’ promoting Zanu-pf and ‘presenting biased coverage of national events ‘(Audiencescapes.org, 14/03/11).

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More pressure came from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe) which on 8th April 2011 in partnership with Artists for Democracy in Zimbabwe Trust (ADZ Trust) and Nhasi Mangwana Trust staged a concert titled ‘Free the Airwaves Now’ (The Zimbabwean, 11/04/11). 

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Zanu-Pf has reportedly indicated that it was not going to comply with the remaining GPA outstanding issues including the opening of airwaves if the MDC does not call for the removal of targeted sanctions.

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As if to prove that point ZBC has refused to play MDC songs while saturating the airwaves with Zanu-pf jingles. Asked why they have not been playing the MDC album, a ZBC public relations manager, Sivukile Simango reportedly said:

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‘We did not play it and we will never play it on ZBC, never. I can refer you to Muchechetere (ZBC chief executive) so that he can comment on issues of policy, but as of now can just tell you, we will never play that music’ (The Daily News, 10/04/11).

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The question on every person’s mind is: ‘When will Robert Mugabe free the airwaves?’

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Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, Political Analyst, London, zimanalysis@gmail.com