ZIMPAPERS is hosting Kingstons’ two radio stations, exposing the government’s commitment to free the airwaves as a façade.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
Kingstons is one of the eight companies that were given commercial radio licences by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) under controversial circumstances in March last year.
The majority of the radio stations are yet to begin live broadcasts because their owners, who have strong links with Zanu PF and some state institutions, are broke.
Kingstons — a parastatal that is struggling to survive — was given a licence to run commercial radio stations in Harare and Kariba.
However, investigations revealed that the two stations KE100.4 FM (Harare) and Nyaminyami FM (Kariba) are operating from the government-controlled company’s Star FM studios in Harare.
The agreement reached by the two companies to merge their operations remains murky, but insiders said it could be in violation of the Broadcasting Services Act that explicitly prohibits the transfer of licences.
“Those involved in the deal don’t seem to realise that they are violating the law,” said an insider who requested anonymity.
Part of the Act says: “No licensee shall assign, cede, pledge, transfer or sell his licence to any other person, or surrender his programming duties to another entity outside his establishment. Any such assignment, cession, pledge, transfer, sale or surrender shall be void.”
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the director of the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa, said the move by Zimpapers proved that the licensing of the commercial radio stations was a mere extension of the government’s media empire.
“For anyone who has doubted before that these radio stations amounted to an expansion of the state media empire, proof is there now,” he said.
“The fact that Kingstons and Star FM are using the same premises can only shock those that believe that they were separate entities independent of government control.
“The truth is that the two fall under the Mass Media Trust, which is a public entity that government has since hijacked and turned into an extension of its own ruling party.”
But Information, Media and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary George Charamba played down the deal, claiming the two companies were just sharing infrastructure.
“We are actually encouraging infrastructure sharing. It is possible to share transmitters, studios, radio stations or vehicles,” he said, adding that almost all radio stations were using the same transmitters in the country.
“We have done better than the telecommunication sector, which is duplicating infrastructure.
“Setting up different things is not actually a very clever way of handling this business as they can be handled under one roof.”
Charamba described Kingstons and Zimpapers as siblings, saying they all fall under the Mass Media Trust.
Charamba said Kingstons was sinking in debt and could lose its properties, hence the arrangement was a cost-cutting measure.
He said the government was aware any subcontracting would land Kingstons in trouble.
“The law does not allow subcontracting a licence. The licence must remain Kingstons’ and never mind that they are broadcasting from Star FM.”
BAZ has come under fire for dishing out licences to Zanu PF and government-linked institutions despite the fact they would have failed to prove their capacity to run commercial stations.
The licensing has also made a mockery of calls to liberalise the airwaves.